Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are considered good microorganisms for the body. They mainly benefit the digestive system. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, cereals, and fermented milk. Probiotics help to fight the bad bacteria in the body as well as to establish a healthy body balance.
The body does not necessarily depend on supplements and foods which contain probiotics to remain healthy. However, the presence of those foods and supplements significantly help in maintaining good bacteria in the gut.
The following are ways in which probiotics help to keep your body healthy:
- They replenish good bacteria that could be destroyed by antibiotics.
- They restore the proper balance between the body's good vs. bad bacteria for optimal health.
- They decrease the number of bad bacteria in your gut which causes inflammation and infection. Some examples of probiotics include the following:
Probiotics are found naturally in the intestines. The family of microorganisms inside the body includes yeast in the form of Saccharomyces bourlardii and bacteria in the form of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Outside the body, Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common bacteria found in yogurt.
Supplements with Probiotics
These are the dietary supplements found in the form of tablets, powder, liquid, and capsules, each containing a specific type of probiotic. These supplements are available in vitamin shops, health stores, and other outlets. The most commonly known supplement is acidophilus which is readily available via most supplement manufacturers.
Foods with Probiotics
Probiotics are present in fermented foods, unfermented butter, milk, miso, kefir, Kimchi, sauerkraut, soft cheese, and in many pickles. The most common food that is known to contain probiotics is yogurt.
Medical Conditions that Warrant the Use of Probiotics
There are two primary medical conditions that warrant the use of probiotics: digestive track conditions and skin conditions.
Digestive Tract Conditions
Probiotics are mainly used to treat and prevent inflammatory conditions such as:
- Chronic stomach inflammation
- Ulcers which are usually caused by helicobacteria pylori bacteria
- Pouchitis (This mostly affects those people who have their colons removed)
- Inflammatory bowel conditions (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis)
Probiotics are also used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, acid reflux, infectious diarrhea (shortens the duration), colorectal and bladder cancer (reduces the recurrence) and spastic colon.
Yogurt is one of the most common foods to combat diarrhea, which is a typical side effect with those who use antibiotics. Yogurt also helps to subdue vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, a condition common in women.
Safety and Side Effects of Probiotics
Probiotics, just like any other supplement, can occasionally trigger some allergic reactions such as diarrhea, flatulence (passing gas), bloating, and a mildly upset stomach. Any of these symptoms may (or may not) be felt within the first few days. Taking into consideration that probiotics exist naturally in the body, probiotic supplements and foods are ultimately considered safe to use.
It is worth noting that dietary supplements, unlike medications, do not need approval from the FDA. This gives manufacturers the freedom to sell their supplements on a simple claim of "safety" and "effectiveness."
Some researchers are still undecided as to whether probiotic supplements are helpful. There is an argument where some say they are not useful, while others give probiotics the benefit of the doubt.
Side effects of probiotics
The following are the most common side effects of probiotics and how to reduce them.
Probiotics can Cause Unpleasant Digestive Problems
While not everybody may experience any notable side effects, the most reported complaints with bacteria-based probiotics are temporary boating and increased gas. Those who take yeast-based probiotics also experience increased thirst and constipation. The reason why some people experience these side effects is still unknown, but they quickly vanish after a few weeks of consistent use.
In a bid to reduce the side effects, it is advisable to start using probiotics moderately and then increase to full dosage after some time (at least a week) to give the body enough time to adjust. If the symptoms persist, consult a medical professional.
Probiotic Foods Containing Amines May Trigger a Headache
Biogenic amines are the substances that usually form when foods that contain proteins ferment or age, due to bacteria. Most probiotic-rich foods such as Sauerkraut, Kimchi, and Yogurt contain biogenic amines. The most common amines found in these probiotic foods are: tyramine, tryptamine, histamine, and phenylethylamine.
Amines affect the central nervous system and may trigger headaches, and increase and decrease blood flow to those who are sensitive to this substance. Research is still ongoing as to whether amines trigger headaches or migraines.
Such symptoms can be better understood and tracked by keeping a diary on the frequency of headaches you have experienced each time you consume fermented foods.
Increased Infection in Some Patients:
Probiotics may not suit everyone, but for the majority of people, probiotics are safe. In rare cases, bacteria or yeast may appear in the bloodstream, which may cause an infection. Those most likely affected would be patients with suppressed immune systems, with venous catheters, with prolonged hospitalization, and those who have undergone recent surgery.
The risk of infection is low, but antibiotics will reduce the possibility of any infection.
It is always advisable to talk to your doctor or a pediatrician before you embark on taking any supplement, or if you plan to give supplements to children.
Always consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding before taking supplements.
It is not advisable to take supplements with other prescribed medicines as the supplement may hinder the efficacy of the medication, and vice-versa.
Editor's Note: When taking supplements in conjunction with medication, another option is to take them either 1/2 hour before or 1/2 hour after ingesting the medication.