Monday, October 27, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Probiotics

Digestive Health

The Pros and Cons of Probiotics

Foods fortified with probiotics and probiotic supplements deliver live bacteria that can help with digestive health. But while the list of potential benefits of probiotics is growing, there are still questions about their effectiveness.

When you go to the grocery store nowadays, you’ll likely see a number of items containing probiotics, so-called "friendly" microorganisms which are most commonly bacteria, and sometimes a type of yeast. Manufacturers tout how good they are for you and your digestive health, and you can now find everything from probiotic yogurt, chocolate, and granola bars, to probiotic supplements and powders lining store shelves.
Though probiotics might seem like the latest health trend, they are not new, says Susan Lucak, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York City and a special lecturer at the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University. “Probiotics have been consumed by humans in one form or another for more than 100 years,” Dr. Lucak says.
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Today, the two most common types of probiotics found on the market are species of good bacteria called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. While their manufacturers claim that probiotics have a number of overall and digestive health benefits, the scientific jury is still out on who should take them. Probiotics have a good safety record, but studies have not been performed in individuals who may have compromised immune systems, Lucak says. And, she adds, if you are a healthy person, “there is no evidence that probiotics will provide any additional health benefits.”
The Many Possible Benefits of Probiotics
Research to determine the full health benefits of probiotics is ongoing. Studies are looking into a wide range of possibilities, from whether probiotics can play a role in preventing tooth decay and periodontal disease to helping treat a variety of medical conditions, including:
  • Skin infections and eczema
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Vaginal infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Stomach and respiratory infections children acquire in day care settings
  • Antibiotic-related diarrhea
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — patients with ulcerative colitis appear to respond better to probiotics than those with Crohn’s disease
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are even looking at whether probiotics could slow the growth of certain cancerous tumors. They believe that a better understanding of the effects of probiotics may lead to the development of probiotic-based regimens for preventing inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.

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