Did you know that the bacteria that live in our intestines account for over two pounds of our body weight? And that there are 10 times the number of bacterial cells in our body than human cells? Some bacteria play a beneficial role in a normal gastrointestinal (GI) tract and are known as probiotics.
Probiotics have a variety of functions in the GI tract including aiding the intestinal immune system and the intestinal nervous system, breaking our food into nutrients, blocking the bad bacteria, and promoting a healthy intestinal lining. With so many important tasks, it is no surprise that probiotics can be used to treat some common GI conditions. Though studies of probiotics are small with considerable variability, there is evidence supporting probiotic use for prevention of diarrhea caused by antibiotic use and treatment of infectious diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, clostridium difficile, and irritable bowel syndrome.
What you should know:
The U.S. FDA considers probiotics as dietary supplements, so their production is not tightly regulated and quality can vary widely. In addition, insurance companies do not cover probiotics, and the cost adds up quickly.
Should I eat more yogurt?
People often believe that eating yogurt gives them the benefit of probiotic therapy (just ask Jamie Lee Curtis). However, not all yogurts are created equal. Reading the label of your favorite yogurt should give you the quantity and type of probiotic it contains.
Will any probiotic work for my symptoms?
In the store, you will find many bottles of probiotics. One key point in using probiotic therapy is the understanding that each probiotic is different. There are a wide variety of bacterial and yeast strains available, and trials evaluate many different combinations. To achieve the best chance of probiotics being helpful, I recommend choosing the type and dose of probiotic that has been best studied for your individual symptoms. I have included some of the probiotics that I commonly recommend, but this list is not all-inclusive.
|Antibiotic-associated diarrhea||Culturelle||LGG||10 billion count/day|
|Danactive||L casei||10 billion count/day|
|Florastor||Saccharomyces bouldardii||250 mg twice daily|
|Infectious diarrhea||Culturelle||LGG||10 billion count/day|
|Florastor||Saccharomyces boulardii||250 mg twice daily|
|Irritable bowel syndrome||Align||B infantis||1 billion count/day|
|Culturelle||LGG||10 billion count/day|
|Ulcerative colitis||VSL#3||Multiple||Up to 8 sachet/day|
Are there times that I should avoid probiotics?
Even if clinical trials do not prove probiotics to be helpful for your condition, there is usually little harm. However, there are case reports of patients with suppressed immune systems becoming ill from probiotic therapy, so if you are on immune suppressing drugs you should talk with your doctor before starting anything.
Finally, probiotic therapy most often works in conjunction with, but does not replace conventional therapy. Please tell your healthcare team about anything that you are putting into your body.