Should you use probiotics?
Like a YouTube video going viral, probiotics is the latest buzzword in the alternative medicine universe. Just Google the term and you'll receive more than 12 million hits.
Probiotics, according to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), "are living microscopic organisms, or micro-organisms, that scientific research has shown to benefit your health. Most often they are bacteria, but they may also be other organisms such as yeasts. In some cases they are similar, or the same, as the 'good' bacteria already in your body, particularly those in your gut."
So if probiotics are so good, what's all the fuss about? As the AGA points out, "There are many other types of bacteria that are also classified as probiotics. Each group of bacteria has different species and each species has different strains. This is important to remember because different strains have different benefits for different parts of your body. ...In general, not all probiotics are the same, and they don't all work the same way."
So, while the researchers tend to agree that probiotics are generally beneficial, they're still trying to figure out how they work.
According to WebMD, there are almost 400 types of probiotic bacteria that inhabit our digestive tract. Of these, lactic acid bacteria is the best known and is commonly found in yogurt. Other probiotics can be obtained through dietary supplements.
Acknowledging that more research is needed, Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky noted the following benefits for including probiotics in a healthy diet:
•Preventing and treating vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
•Treating irritable bowel syndrome.
•Reducing the recurrence of bladder cancer.
•Speeding the treatment of intestinal infections.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that probiotics might be helpful in treating the common cold.
This building evidence of knowledge might be of particular significance to people diagnosed with Crohn's disease, one of the autoimmune diseases where the cause is unknown and there is no cure. Crohn's disease, according to the website healthline.com, is an inflammation of the digestive tract that can lead to problems in digesting food, which of course can be life-threatening.
Recent research indicates that people with Crohn's disease who consume yogurt have benefitted from the probiotics found in the food.
"In general, it appears certain that consuming yogurt, especially with active cultures, is beneficial for most people. The data on using probiotics to treat Crohn's patients are somewhat less clear, but overall it appears that yogurt is well-tolerated, provides needed calcium and calories, and may actually improve the patient's condition," reported healthline.com.
Still, with all the hype and positive research results about probiotics, caution is necessary as with any complementary or alternative medicine.
"Probiotic products are widely marketed, and consumer interest in probiotics is growing rapidly. Although some probiotic formulations have shown promise in research, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most conditions is lacking," warns the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "If you are thinking about using a probiotic dietary supplement, consult your healthcare provider first. Probiotics -- like any form of complementary medicine -- should not be used in place of conventional medical care or to delay seeking care if you are experiencing symptoms that concern you."