Linda McCormick, MD, is in family practice with Family Medical Care in Blue Springs and in the medical editor of HealthWise.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) probiotics are “live microorganisms which, in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. This is essentially, “friendly bacteria.”
The body already contains “friendly” bacteria and some not-so-friendly ones. Fact is, most of the bacteria in our bodies are not harmful, but problems can occur when there are more bad than good bacteria. An imbalance has been associated with diarrhea, stomach and digestive disorders as well as muscle pain and fatigue.
Probiotics are found in yogurts and dietary supplements and are thought to work by increasing the number of beneficial microorganisms in a person’s intestinal system while decreasing the number of potentially detrimental ones. The other way that probiotics is believed to be helpful is with our immune system, which is our protection against germs.
Because probiotics are primarily sold as supplements, there is no requirement to demonstrate safety, purity or potency before marketing such products. The current issue is how much is enough and are you getting what's being advertised?
Some yogurts now labeled as containing “live and active cultures”, don't necessarily meet the requirements of the definition of probiotics. They may not contain adequate amounts of live microorganisms to actually provide a health benefit for the consumer.
While some studies have shown many health benefits of probiotics, no health claims for probiotics have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And despite many potential benefits of probiotics, further research is needed to provide strong scientific support. Much of the research on probiotics has been conducted primarily on animal subjects and little in humans.
For people with compromised or suppressed immune systems, taking probiotics may actually be harmful.
Always speak with your doctor before taking any supplements. Your doctor can help you decide if trying probiotics might be helpful for you and can advise you regarding the amount and type of probiotics that may be appropriate in your case.