More than likely, you haven’t been able to escape ads for probiotics. They’re everywhere – on TV, radio, newspapers and all over the internet. But what are the true probiotics benefits? How do you separate substance from hype? Let’s take a look at what the science says when it comes to probiotics and certain health issues.
There is a great deal of research that confirms there are true probiotics benefits when it comes to helping reduce the symptoms associated with diarrhea. This is especially the case if you take antibiotics, which not only attack harmful bacteria but eradicate beneficial bacteria as well. As many as 30 percent of people who take antibiotics will develop diarrhea as a result.1
Many studies show that no matter what your age, you can use probiotics to relieve diarrhea symptoms. It appears that the Lactobacillus family of bacteria is particularly effective in relieving discomfort. In some cases, diarrhea caused by a harmful bacterium known as C. difficile can become so severe that it is life threatening. Research shows that the Lactobacillus bacterium can help inhibit the formation of C. difficile in the digestive system.2
True probiotics products are designed to send beneficial bacteria to the gastrointestinal tract, or “gut” – the small and large intestines, in particular. This is an area where trillions of bacteria reside, some good and some bad. It’s important that we have enough good bacteria in our gut to balance out the bad ones.
Probiotics have been shown to help relieve issues such as bloating and constipation. In one study, people were given two servings of yogurt containing beneficial bacteria each day. After a few weeks of this regimen, the study participants reported a reduction in bloating, as well as increased bowel movements.3
One of the most common reasons for itching is a problem known as eczema, which can make skin extremely dry. One study showed that pregnant women could help reduce the chances their babies will be born with this condition. The study involved a group of mothers-to-be who suffered from skin allergies. One part of the group received probiotics for the last two months of pregnancy and the first two months of breastfeeding. Another group received a placebo.
Researchers conducting the study then checked the babies at intervals of six, 12, and 24 months. The babies of women given the probiotics developed eczema at significantly lower rates than the babies born to women given the placebo.4
Upper Respiratory Issues
Researchers analyzed several studies that were conducted to see if there could be a link between probiotic use and a reduced risk of developing colds and other types of upper respiratory infections. They found that in studies that involved the use of probiotics versus placebos, most people who took probiotics suffered fewer colds.5 In another study, researchers gave probiotic-enriched milk to a group of children and gave regular milk to another group. The children who drank milk with probiotics, according to the researchers, were 17 percent less likely to develop an upper or lower respiratory infection.6
Your oral health, or lack of it, can have a major impact on your overall health. For example, diabetes, low birth weight, and other issues have been linked to a lack of proper oral hygiene. Research indicates that the Lactobacillus reuteri bacterium could help reduce tooth decay as well as bad breath.7,8
Just like the gastrointestinal tract, the vagina is another environment that contains a large number of beneficial and harmful bacteria. Some women experience issues when taking birth control pills or antibiotics, such as urinary tract and yeast infections. Probiotics help balance out the good and bad bacteria, so that the harmful ones can’t take over.9
Colic is a mysterious condition that affects many babies, often leading to uncontrollable crying. It’s not clear what causes colic, but studies indicate that probiotics could help reduce the discomfort that infants with colic experience. One study found that babies breastfed by mothers who took true probiotics cried a little more than three hours less per day than those whose mothers didn’t take probiotics.10
There are several other studies that indicate probiotics can provide additional health benefits. These include:
- Helping the body absorb critical nutrients.11
- Reducing symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.12
- Enhancing the effectiveness of the immune system.13
Should I Take True Probiotics?
Probiotics are thought to be safe for people who are in generally good health. They might sometimes lead to minor side effects such as gas, but that should be about the extent of any issues. However, people who suffer from severe illnesses (particularly those that affect the small or large intestine) or have compromised immune systems are advised to stay away from probiotics, because they could make some symptoms worse.
Talk to your doctor if you are thinking of trying a regimen of true probiotics to make sure your system will be able to tolerate them. While the chances are very good that you’ll be just fine, it won’t hurt to stay on the safe side.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Numerous studies suggest true probiotics can deliver a wide range of benefits to the body. But it’s important to note that other studies contradict these findings. Anyone thinking that a probiotic product is a magic pill will be disappointed. However, for the vast majority of people, it can be a beneficial addition to an overall health regimen.