What Are Probiotics? Uses, Benefits, Safety, Foods

What Are Probiotics

Dale’s Healthy Foods have prepared recommendations for patients having problems with the digestive tract. This article is about probiotics and their effects on human health.

What are probiotics and how do they work?

Probiotics are microorganisms that can be good for your health, as numerous studies suggest. Most often these are bacteria, but they can be other organisms, such as yeast. In some cases, they are similar to the “good” bacteria that inhabit the human body or are the same bacteria that live in humans, most often in the intestines.

Most probiotic bacteria belong to two genera: lactobacilli (lat. Lactobacillus) and bifidobacteria (lat. Bifidobacterium), although there are many other types of probiotic bacteria. Each genus of bacteria contains a significant number of species, each species has a different strain. This is important to remember because different strains can be differently beneficial for different organs in your body. For example, the Shirota strain of the species Lactobacillus casei supports the immune system and helps to promote food through the intestines, the Bulgaricus strain of the species Lactobacillus delbrueckii is useful for patients who are unable to digest the lactose contained in natural milk and most dairy products. In general, not all probiotics are the same and not all work the same.

Scientists still understand exactly how probiotics work. Probiotics can:

  • increase the efficiency of the immune system by secreting antibodies to certain viruses;
  • produce substances that prevent various infections;
  • prevent the attachment of bacteria harmful to humans to the intestinal wall and inhibit their growth;
  • stimulate the strengthening of the mucous layer in the intestines as a barrier against infections;
  • inhibit the secretion or destroy the toxins secreted by some bacteria that are “bad” for the human body;
  • produce B vitamins necessary for the metabolism of food, prevent anemia that occurs when there is a lack of vitamins B6 and B12, as well as maintain healthy skin and nervous system.

Use of probiotics in various diseases

Probiotics are most often used to improve the functioning of the digestive system. Since there are different types of probiotics, it is important to find the right option to solve your health issues. Researchers have not yet fully determined which of the probiotics should be used for a specific disease or condition. Probiotics can help regulate the passage of food through the intestines. They can also help in the treatment of diseases of the digestive system, which is of great interest to gastroenterologists. Most often, probiotics are used in the treatment of the following diseases and conditions:

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of intestinal motility. IBS may be accompanied by diarrhea, constipation, or alternately: diarrhea / constipation. The cause of IBS is not injury or organic disease. Often the only way to diagnose IBS is diagnostic tests and procedures that exclude other possible diseases.

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Probiotics, in particular, Bifidobacterium infantis, Sacchromyces boulardii, Lactobacillus plantarum and a combination of probiotics can help regulate bowel movements in patients with IBS. Probiotics can also help reduce bloating from gas, which is sometimes a serious problem for IBS patients. Research on which probiotics are best used for the treatment of IBS is ongoing.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Although some of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are the same as in IBS, they are still different, since bowel inflammation occurs during IBD. The cause of IBD is a violation of the immune system. Symptoms of IBD include abdominal colic, pain, diarrhea, weight loss and blood in the feces. In Crohn’s disease, ulcerations can occur in any part of the intestine, including the colon and small intestine. In ulcerative colitis, only the colon can become inflamed. Attacks of inflammation can come and go, but in some cases, only prescription drugs can monitor the condition of the patient.

Some studies show that probiotics can help reduce inflammation and delay the next bout of illness. Ulcerative colitis may respond better to probiotics than Crohn’s disease. Currently, with respect to IBD, Escherichia coli strain Nissle strain (lat. Escherichia coli), as well as a mixture of several strains of lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and streptococci are considered the most effective. Research into determining the best probiotics for IBD treatment is ongoing.

Infectious diarrhea

Infectious diarrhea is caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. There is evidence that probiotics such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus casei may be particularly useful in the treatment of diarrhea caused by rotavirus infection, which often affects infants and young children. Some strains of Lactobacillus and a strain of the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii can help in the treatment and reduce the course of infectious diarrhea.

Antibiotic-associated diarrhea

Sometimes taking antibiotics can lead to infectious diarrhea. This is due to the fact that antibiotics can destroy beneficial microorganisms in the intestine, in the absence of which a sharp increase in the number of pathogenic microorganisms is possible, which in a normal situation does not create any problems for humans. One of such pathogenic microbes is Clostridium difficile, which is the main cause of diarrhea in those who need long-term treatment and are, for example, in hospitals or nursing homes. The problem with Clostridium difficile is that the infection it causes is often accompanied by relapses, but there is evidence that taking probiotics such as Saccharomyces boulardii can help prevent this. There is also evidence that taking probiotics with antibiotics at the same time can help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

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Travelers diarrhea

When traveling or going abroad, infectious “traveler’s diarrhea” can occur as a result of exposure to the body of new, as a rule, harmless bacteria. Most studies show that probiotics are not very effective in preventing or treating travelers’ diarrhea in adults. Scientists are confronted with the problem of determining which probiotics may be useful for travelers’ diarrhea since the number of travel destinations and the number of different bacteria that travelers may encounter is large.

Other uses

Other potential uses of probiotics include:

  • maintaining oral health,
  • preventing and treating skin diseases such as eczema,
  • promoting urinary and vaginal health,
  • preventing allergies (especially in children).

There is not so much research in these areas and they are contradictory.

Are probiotics safe?

Most probiotics are said to be safe, although it is not yet known whether they are safe for patients with severe disorders of the immune system. They can be consumed by people who do not have problems with the digestive organs. Their safety is obvious, as they have a long history of use in dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk.

However, before adding these or any other probiotics to your diet, you should talk to your doctor. Probiotics may not be suitable for older people. Some probiotics may interfere with or interact with certain drugs. A doctor can help you determine if probiotics are good for you based on your medical history.

In recent years, the number of studies on the effects of probiotics on children has increased. Although research has shown that probiotics can help treat infectious diarrhea in infants and young children, researchers are not sure that probiotics are very useful, especially for children with Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory bowel diseases. Before giving probiotics to your child, consult a pediatrician.

The exception is breastfeeding. Breast milk promotes the growth of normal intestinal microflora, which is important for the development of the immune and digestive systems of the child. This is one of the reasons why doctors strongly recommend mothers to breastfeed their children.

In general, Dale’s Healthy Foods believe that more research is needed before one can make a final conclusion about the safety of probiotics in general or about certain types and strains. Future studies will show whether probiotics can be used to treat diseases, are they safe to use for a long time, and whether it is permissible to take too many probiotics or mix them in an inappropriate way. These studies will also give us directions on what probiotics should be used for various health problems.

Keep in mind that probiotics are considered dietary supplements and, unlike drugs, are not regulated by the FDA. They are not standardized, that is, they are made differently in different companies and have different additives. And their probiotic action may differ from brand to brand and even from batch to batch within the same brand. Probiotics also vary greatly in cost, and cost does not necessarily reflect high quality.

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Side effects may vary too. The most common side effects are swelling and flatulence, as a rule, light and temporary. More serious side effects include allergic reactions, either directly to probiotics or to other food ingredient or supplement ingredients.

How to choose a probiotic?

Probiotics are available in the form of yogurt and other dairy products, chocolate, muesli, candy bars, juices, powders and capsules. You can purchase them at your local supermarket or Dale’s health food store online. Here are some tips to help you choose a probiotic.

  • Examine the label. The more information on the label, the better. The label should contain information about strains and species of probiotic microorganisms and how many of them will survive during the shelf life. Although some products guarantee a certain amount of microorganisms in the product at the time of its production, it is often not entirely clear how many live microorganisms will remain for the time it is consumed;
  • Call the manufacturer. Unfortunately, many labels contain no information about which particular strain is contained in the product, many cite only a list of genera and species, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium lactis. If you plan to take probiotics for specific purposes, call the company and find out exactly which strains are contained in its products and what research they have done to prove their usefulness to health. You can also search for this information on the website of the probiotic manufacturer;
  • Beware of orders over the Internet. When ordering a product online, make sure that you have chosen a reliable company. There are many scammers willing to send you fake products they call probiotics. At best, the ingredients can be as harmless as garlic powder. In the worst case, they can be mixed with a large number of potent supplements, prescription or unresolved drugs. Some companies may just take the money and disappear;
  • Deal with reputable and well-known companies. The longer a company exists, the more likely it sells controlled and studied natural foods and products. Here are some manufacturers that have been releasing probiotic products for a long time: Attune Foods, Dale’s Healthy Foods, Culturelle, Dannon, Kraft, Nestle, VSL Pharmaceuticals, Procter & Gamble and Yakult.

How to store probiotics?

Do not forget to store probiotics in accordance with the instructions on the packaging and make sure that the product has a shelf life. Probiotics are living organisms. Even if they are dry and inactive, in the form of powder or capsules, they must be stored properly, otherwise, they will die. Some of the probiotics should be kept refrigerated; for others, this is not required. They also have an expiration date, so make sure you use them before the expiration date printed on the package.