Dear Dr. Levister: One of my co-workers who struggles with chronic constipation swears by her probiotic supplements. What exactly are they? T.S.
Dear T.S.: The term probiotics comes from the Greek: pro meaning ‘for’ and bios meaning ‘life.’ Probiotics are dietary supplements that contain bacteria that are naturally occurring in the human intestine and are beneficial to health. These ‘good’ bacteria colonize our intestinal tracts and play key roles in maintaining nutritional status, enhancing immune function, reducing cancer risk, improving cholesterol metabolism, reducing toxic load, and improving the aging progress.
There’s been a tremendous amount of research into probiotics. Almost all of it has been positive. Many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics. They all have different benefits, but most come from two groups. Ask your doctor about which might best benefit you.
Lactobacillus: This may be the most common probiotic. It’s the one you’ll find in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can help with diarrhea and may help with people who can’t digest lactose, the sugar in milk.
Bifidobacterium: You can also find it in some dairy products. It may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
There is also some research to show they ease the symptoms of non-stomach-related problems. For example, some people say they have helped with: skin conditions like eczema, urinary and vaginal health, preventing allergies and colds, and oral health.
There are literally hundreds of probiotic supplements available to buy. While they all promise to help restore our gut microflora, many have shamefully so few “good” bacteria that the package they come in has more value than what is inside. As with most dietary supplements they are not FDA (government) approved, so proceed carefully.
The bacteria contained inside the supplement need to be able to be protected from the enzymes in the stomach. Read the label and look for the manufacturer’s guarantee that the beneficial bacteria will reach the intestines alive, vibrant and raring to go.