What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are microorganisms—such as bacteria, viruses and yeasts—that can be seen only under a microscope and that are often referred to as “healthy” or “good” bacteria. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and defined by the World Health Organization, probiotics are “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. The benefits of incorporating probiotics into one’s diet have been widely speculated, as little evidence exists to support the long-term health benefits. Despite the lack of formal evidence, the probiotic trend has swept the health and diet industries for their potential cleansing benefits, immune boosting powers and nutritional value.
Benefits Of Probiotics:
Probiotics are believed to protect us in two ways. The first is the role is how probiotics play in our digestive tract. We know that our digestive tract needs a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria, so what gets in the way of this? It looks like our lifestyle is both the problem and the solution. Poor food choices, emotional stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, other drugs, and environmental influences can all shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria.
When the digestive tract is healthy, it filters out and eliminates things that can damage it, such as harmful bacteria, toxins, chemicals, and other waste products. On the flip side, it takes in the things that our body needs (nutrients from food and water) and absorbs and helps deliver them to the cells where they are needed.
The idea is not to kill off all of the bad bacteria. Our body does have a need for the bad ones and the good ones. The problem is when the balance is shifted to have more bad than good. An imbalance has been associated with diarrhea, urinary tract infections, muscle pain, and fatigue.
The other way that probiotics help is the impact that they have on our immune system. Some believe that this role is the most important. Our immune system is our protection against germs. When it doesn’t function properly, we can suffer from allergic reactions, autoimmune disorders (for example, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis), and infections (for example, infectious diarrhea, Helicobacter pylori, skin infections, and vaginal infections). By maintaining the correct balance from birth, the hope would be to prevent these ailments. Our immune system can benefit anytime that balanced is restored, so it’s never too late.
Side Effects Of Probiotics:
Supplements are not monitored in the U.S. the way that food or medication is. They fall under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). This requires that the dietary supplement or dietary ingredient manufacturer be responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement or ingredient is safe before it is marketed. The only time that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may get involved is if action is needed to be taken against a manufacturer after the supplement is marketed and then found to be unsafe. This means that as much as we may know about probiotics, we can’t be certain of the safety or content of the supplements available to us.
There is one Voluntary Certification Program by which a supplement manufacturer can choose to be evaluated. ConsumerLab.com (CL) is the leading provider of independent test results and information to help consumers and health care professionals identify the best quality health and nutrition products. Products that have passed their testing for identity, strength, purity, and disintegration can print the CL Seal of Approval on their product. This is one step toward being confident that you are getting the amount and type of probiotic promised by the manufacturer.
While some studies have shown many health benefits of probiotics, more research still needs to be done to be sure that they are safe and effective as a supplement and in foods. This is especially true for children, pregnant women, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems. In cases with individuals who have a suppressed immune systems due to disease or treatment for a disease (such as cancer chemotherapy), taking probiotics may actually increase your chances of getting sick. Its always a good idea to speak with your doctor before taking any supplement under these circumstances.
Side effects are rare, and most healthy adults can safely add foods that contain probiotics to their diet. If you’re considering taking supplements, in particular probiotics, make sure to check with your doctor to be sure that they’re right for you.
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