Probiotics –Healthy or Hype?

There’s a growing body of research that shows bacteria in our gut is related to many health problems, from common diarrhea and obesity to urinary infections and stress.

There is also growing evidence that taking some probiotics- live microorganisms that have health benefits is not a fad and has real health benefits.  Several years ago, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, confirmed that probotics prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics by restoring the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract. This is significant as many as 30 percent of people using antibiotics experience diarrhea as a result of medication.

Just taking a look in the diary case, at your local supermarket will attest to the fact that probiotics are used in many foods today, such as yogurt, baby formula and even chewing gum!  But not all yogurts for instance are considered probiotic foods. All yogurt in Canada for instance contain live bacteria—Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus —that typically offer up to 300,000 live bacteria per serving, which most experts say is too low. Look for a yogurt that has 10 billion per serving.

Probiotic supplements in capsule form are also available using specific bacterial strains to combat various conditions –from IBS-irritable bowel syndrome and IBD-inflammatory bowel disease to traveler’s diarrhea and constipation.

There are hundreds of supplements on the shelves today but most have not undergone the necessary research to prove it.   The first step is to look for products backed by scientific research.

A recent study of brand name probiotic supplements available in Canada with clinical evidence to support specific uses was published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2659138/ .  There is also an excellent chart at the end of the article related to probiotics and the clinical data to support specific uses.  It’s is a good starting point to determine which probiotics are right for you and which have scientifically proven health benefits. Another good reference site, www.scienceofprobiotics.ca is also very helpful.

You will also need to choose a probiotic that contains specific strains known to be beneficial for a particular condition.  So read the labels. For instance, for yeast infections choose a probiotic that has specific strains shown to be beneficial for this condition.  In this case, the strains are Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14.If you don’t have a specific ailment but want to improve the overall health of your gut, choose a probiotic that has several kinds of bacteria.    But again, do your research.
Probiotics are not for everyone, so it is best to speak to your doctor before taking a supplement.