Probiotics literally means “for life.” The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganism which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.” Beneficial bacteria can be found everywhere in the body from the skin to the respiratory tract. However, the majority of the body’s bacteria reside in the digestive tract.
These important organisms provide the body with a multitude of health benefits. However, there can be many lifestyle and health problems that negatively affect the population levels. Supplementing with probiotics is an easy way to maintain the levels of beneficial bacteria in the body. Probiotic supplements typically include a wide variety of bacteria. The two most prevalent classes are Lactobacillus (found predominantly in the upper digestive tract and vagina) and Bifidobacteria (found predominantly in the large intestine). The quantities of each strain of bacteria can vary as well. Each product can contain from 1 billion CFUs (colony forming units) to over 200 Billion CFUs. Products with a higher quantity of bacterial cultures per capsule are typically marketed for more severe health concerns (such as long-term antibiotic use or colon disorders).
There are food sources of beneficial bacteria as well. Yogurt is the most common source. However, it should be noted that there are wide variations in the quantities of bacteria found in yogurt, with some brands containing none at all. This makes it very difficult to get reliable amounts. For those individuals seeking out probiotics for a particular health complaint, probiotic supplements are the most effective method.
- Support for Yeast Control. Many people take probiotics to address digestive disorders, vaginal infections, and other illnesses. Probiotics are often recommended as a safeguard during antibiotic therapy, which can suppress beneficial bacteria and trigger the growth of yeast infections.
- Support a health immune system. Several studies suggest that it functions as an immunity enhancer.
- Ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a constellation of gastrointestinal symptoms that include abdominal bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.
- Control diarrhea. For diarrhea due to antibiotic use: probiotics will help to correct the bacterial imbalances caused by the drug. Individuals prone to antibiotic-associated diarrhea may take both probiotics and medication at the same time. Traveler’s diarrhea can also be helped by probiotic supplementation.
- Reduce flatulence. Combat vaginal yeast and other infections associated with Candida. Probiotics help halt Candida overgrowth. Probiotics may be particularly effective in preventing vaginal yeast infections caused by Candida.
- Relieve urinary tract infections. Lactobacilli such as acidophilus are the dominant members of healthy bacterial life in the urinary tract; they are powerful enough to neutralize Escherichia (E.) coli bacteria, the source of many urinary tract infections.
- Battle bad breath. As bacteria in your mouth work to break down food particles, they can multiply and release foul-smelling chemicals. Usually, good oral hygiene is adequate to clear out offensive mouth odors. But when you need extra help, adding acidophilus to your system can encourage more efficient digestion and reduce the number of odor-producing bacteria.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with probiotic supplementation. As a general rule, probiotics should be taken with food to reduce the number of organisms destroyed by stomach acid. Although probiotics can ease flatulence, ironically, it may increase gas for a few days. This effect will ease as your intestines adjust to the bacterial shift.