Probiotics are receiving quite a bit of attention. Probiotics are organisms that have beneficial properties for the host (that’s us), and are an important way we can alter intestinal bacterial flora. Probiotics are derived from food sources like cultured milk products and include names like Lactobacillus, Clostridium butyricum, Steptococcus salvarius, and a yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii.
Most benefit from probiotics seems to be with the gastrointestinal illnesses. Several studies have shown that probiotics can be effective for many gastrointestinal illnesses like Crohns, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and antibiotic associated diarrhea. While not consistently found to be helpful, there may be a role in using probiotics for allergy, eczema, bacterial vaginosis and chronic vaginal yeast infections.
Probiotics work in the gut in some interesting ways: they suppress the binding and invasion of harmful bacteria in the gut; they improve intestinal barrier function, and change the gut’s immune system by stimulating protective cytokines and suppressing harmful ones.
An easy option for adding probiotics in your diet is through fermented milk products. These include Kefir (liquid yogurt drinks), sour cream, and some plain Turkish yogurts, all of which are dairy products that have been cultured with lactic acid bacteria. Although I commonly recommend yogurt, it’s important to know that not all live cultures contained in yogurt survive well in an acidic environment nor do they colonize the microflora efficiently. Look for yogurt that says “live and active cultures” on the label since some yogurt preparations in the United States are pasteurized, thereby killing the bacteria. Also, for those who are lactose intolerant, the residual lactose contained in yogurt can increase symptoms. There are many probiotic capsules and powders available on the internet, but the best evidence is for the active cultures listed above.
If you are struggling with abdominal bloating, gas, and chronic nausea it is also worth giving probiotics a try, in addition to going to see your doctor.