Probiotics – Miracle Cure?

July 17th, 2013 by Eduardo Krajewski, MD, FACS, FASCRS

Are you hungry? How about eating some bacteria for breakfast? Well, it might not be a meal, but probiotics are living microorganisms that are ingested to give you a health benefit. You can already buy special yogurts, milks, cheeses and nutritional supplements that contain probiotics. The idea is that by introducing the right bacteria into your intestines, a balance will be achieved that can treat or cure disorders such as diarrhea, lactose intolerance, cancers, high blood pressure and immune disease. Is there any truth to these claims? Let’s take a look.

The Gut Flora

The digestive tract of humans contains some 100 trillion microorganisms in which there are possibly up to 1000 different species. The number of organisms involved has led some scientists to call the gut flora the “forgotten organ”. Most of these little bugs are bacteria and their job is to help with digestion, immune function and vitamin production. So it seems logical that if we can somehow influence this micro-environment we can have a positive impact on our health.

Which Bacteria are Probiotics and What Illnesses do They Treat?

In the early 1900s Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff was working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He discovered that sour milk, rich in lactic acid bacteria, provided some health benefits. Metchnikoff himself drank the milk, and he claimed that he felt healthier. Maybe Elie suffered from lactose intolerance. Later Henry Tissier, also at the Pasteur Institute, found that bifidobacteria could be useful in treating infant diarrhea, and the probiotic era was born.

The following is a list of probiotic bacteria and the disorders that might receive some benefit from ingesting these microorganisms:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus is used for lactose intolerance. Special milks, cheeses and yogurts fermented with these bacteria are commercially available.
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus has been used to treat and prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea.
  • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus has been shown to have some anti-colon cancer activity in animal studies. Further research is ongoing about potential human benefits. There is also some evidence that these bacteria might help lower cholesterol, control blood pressure and fight infection by improving immune function.
  • Bifidobacterium infantis may be beneficial in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Vitamin production: various strains of probiotic bacteria have been shown to help facilitate the production of Vitamin K, folic acid and Vitamin B12.

Do All Yogurts Contain Probiotics?

Yogurt is made by the fermentation of milk by bacteria. Some brands of yogurt use a post-fermentation heat treatment that then kills all the bacteria. If you want any of the potential benefits of probiotics you want to stick with brands that contain active live cultures. Some are marked with a “Live & Active Cultures” seal on the product label.

Bottom Line, Do Probiotics Work?

The short answer is yes, probiotics probably give you some health benefit. The problem is in the diversity of products available. Some companies out there randomly slap together a supplement and then make all kinds of outlandish health claims just to make money. Then there are others that are very serious about the preparation and research that goes into their products. The other challenge is determining the best way to take the probiotics and how much you need to take to make an impact on your health.

There is a lot of ongoing research in the field of probiotics, and it promises to deliver new benefits to disease treatment and prevention. The challenge is in maintaining high scientific standards in the race to capitalize on any claimed health benefits.

Feel free to take a look around The H Doctor website. Here you will find the most current information about hemorrhoid treatment and other digestive health topics.

Make every day count.

 

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