Probiotics : A Quick Look

rain-bacteriaThe Skinny on Probiotics

Probiotics is a general term for living microorganisms — usually known as “friendly” bacteria, or yeast — that have health benefits in the body. Many are similar to organisms that are naturally found in the body, especially in the digestive tract.

Why Probiotics?
Probiotics work by balancing the levels of microorganisms in the intestines, drive down the numbers of harmful bacteria, and have been shown to help boost the body’s immune system.

Although research is ongoing, there’s good evidence that some probiotics may be helpful in treating irritable bowel syndrome, some types of diarrhea, colitis (particularly ulcerative colitis and including the difficult to treat “pouchitis” found in ulcerative colitis), certain types of stomach ulcers (those caused by H. pylori), acne, and eczema in children. They may also be used with antibiotics to help prevent diarrhea that may come with taking antibiotics. In addition, researchers are studying probiotics to determine if they may help infections (including urinary tract, vaginal, GI, sinus, and respiratory), dental disease, allergies, and diseases of the liver and pancreas. They are also testing probiotics to see if they can help prevent the recurrence of colon and bladder cancer..

There are many types of probiotics and most commercial brands contain a mixture of strains including lactobacilli (like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus GG), bifidobacteria (like Bifidobacterium bifidus, L. rhamnosus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, and others) and some yeasts like Saccharomyces boulardii. Different probiotics have different effects. So while one may help treat diarrhea or a vaginal infection, another may have no effect. Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria are two of the most common types of probiotics on the market. Each provides different benefits. Lactobacilli helps with digesting dairy products, treating diarrhea associated with antibiotic use, and prevents the over growth of disease causing microbes such as E. coli and salmonella. Bifidobacteria produces acids that help balance the pH level in the intestines. It also helps in limiting bacteria that produces nitrates. Nitrates are toxic to the bowel and can lead to cancer.

If you have intestinal disease or damage, HIV, cancer, a weakened immune system, or excessive bacteria or yeast in your intestines, don’t use probiotics without checking first with your doctor.

Is there a right Dosage?
Because there are so many different probiotic organisms, there is not a set recommended dosage, but research suggests aiming for 1 billion to 10 billion live bacteria cultures. Higher dosages (30 billion>) may be necessary after a bad stomach bug or a round of antibiotics. It also important to consider your symptomology as well as physical complaint to determine the dosage and strain.  The dosage is measured in Colony Forming Units, or CFUs. Look for at least 6 different strains or more in addition to the number of CFU’s. The best time to take them is in the morning on a empty stomach.

A wide range of dosages for Lactobacillus sp. and other probiotics have been studied in clinical trials, ranging from 100 million to 1.8 trillion CFUs per day, with larger dosages used to reduce the risk of pouchitis relapse. Most studies examined dosages in the range of 1 to 20 billion CFUs per day, although exact dosages for specific indications varied within this range. Generally, higher dosages of probiotics (i.e., more than 5 billion CFUs per day in children and more than 10 billion CFUs per day in adults) were associated with a more significant study outcome. There is no evidence that higher dosages are unsafe; however, they may be more expensive and unnecessary. The dosages of S. boulardii in most studies range between 250 mg and 500 mg per day.

Probiotic usage does not have a timetable. As far as finding relief from gastrointestinal upset, you could find relief in a few days to a few weeks. You can continue taking probiotics every day as the bacteria is already found in your body. You can also go off and on probiotics as you feel you need them such as when taking antibiotics or when digestive upset occurs. There is no rule as to how long or how often to take probiotics and the use will be up to the individual. If you find they are not helping then you may need to try a different brand, strain, or adjust the dosage.

Probiotics are generally sold as capsules, powder, tablets, liquid, or are incorporated into food. The specific number of CFUs contained in a given dose or serving of food can vary between brands. Patients should be advised to read product labels carefully to make sure they are getting the proper dose.

A recent study analyzed a range of brands of probiotics and found that of the 19 brands examined, five did not contain the number of live microorganisms stated on the label. Because some labels are unreliable, physicians should recommend specific brands known to be of reasonable quality or encourage patients to research brands before purchasing a specific product.

What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients in foods that are used to spur the growth of probiotic bacteria in the body by providing a suitable environment in which the probiotics themselves can flourish.

Getting Probiotics and Prebiotics from foods?
Probiotics occur naturally in some foods and are added to others. Examples are yogurt (look for live and active cultures), kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, soy drinks, and some other beverages.

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