By Evan Jerkunica
Probiotic supplements are live microorganisms – usually bacteria but sometimes yeasts– that are ingested for health benefits. Probiotics can be purchased as a supplement or eaten in certain natural foods such as yogurt with live and active cultures. People have been eating cultured yogurt for thousands of years, but the health benefits of probiotics are starting to be fully understood now. Potential health benefits of probiotics include:
Reducing Digestive Problems Caused by Antibiotics
Antibiotics used to treat infections can kill off beneficial bacteria in the intestines that are necessary for proper digestion. Many people taking antibiotics experience uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhea. It has been found that consuming probiotics can prevent this by replenishing the natural populations of beneficial gastrointestinal bacteria.
Improving Absorption of Minerals
Lactobacilli in particular may help with absorption of trace minerals. Taking probiotic supplements may make you less likely to have a deficiency in these dietary nutrients.
Benefits for the Lactose Intolerant
Many lactose-intolerant individuals can eat yogurt, because the lactobacilli in the yogurt culture convert lactose sugar into lactic acid, which does not cause the uncomfortable digestive symptoms of lactose intolerance. Similarly, probiotic supplements with lactobacilli can improve digestion of lactose.
Probiotics may reduce the incidence of infections caused by harmful, invasive bacteria, especially after taking antibiotics. Without a healthy population of gastrointestinal bacteria, you are more prone to infections. If probiotics are taken, the beneficial bacteria are replenished and it is more difficult for harmful bacteria to invade your body and multiply.
Improving Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium infantis strain 35624 probiotic supplements have both been shown in clinical studies to improve some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Reducing Urinary Tract Infections
Taking probiotic supplements may decrease the incidence of both urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginal infections by decreasing the growth of infection-causing bacteria.
Treating Ulcerative Colitis
Several different probiotic supplements have been found useful for treating and preventing recurrence of ulcerative colitis.
Helping with Ulcers
Probiotic supplements may reduce the incidence and duration of ulcers by competing with the harmful Heliobacter pylori bacteria that cause ulcers.
Reducing Incidence of Colon Cancer
Some strains of Lactobacillus are thought to reduce the incidence of colon cancer by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme that can form carcinogens in the colon. Populations that consume more dairy foods containing lactobacilli have a lower incidence of colon cancer.
Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
Probiotic supplements may have a small beneficial effect on hypertension and high cholesterol levels. This does not replace the need for medical treatment of these conditions, but probiotics can help.
Probiotics are safe except in people with severe immune deficiencies.
*Image provided by Voskos.*