When most people think about bacteria they associate it with sickness and disease. However, what most people don't know is their guts are full of this stuff. In fact there are an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species inhabit every normal, healthy bowel. These trillions of microorganisms generally don't make us sick and are actually very helpful. They keep harmful microorganisms in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.
We're learning more about the benefits of probiotics every day. Scientific evidence suggests that you may be able treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria like yogurt, kimchi, tempeh and pickles, to name a few. Northern Europeans consume a lot of these beneficial microorganisms, called probiotics (from pro and biota, meaning "for life"), because of their tradition of eating foods fermented with bacteria.
So what are the the benefits of taking probiotics?
Many gastroenterologists, digestive disease specialists and researchers are finding that probiotic supplements may help with disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, H. pylori (the cause of ulcers). Research has also shown that probiotics may help with vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, recurrence of bladder cancer, infection of the digestive tract caused by Clostridium difficilepouchitis (a possible side effect of surgery that removes the colon) eczema in children. Additional research shows probiotics may delay the development of allergies in children, and treat and prevent vaginal and urinary infections in women.
Not all probiotics are the same.
Different strains of the bacteria have different effects and benefits. For example, one strain may fight against cavity-causing organisms in our mouths and can help improve your oral health, while others can help treat gastrointestinal disorders.
Probiotics and your gut health.
The most common use of probiotic therapy has been in the treatment of diarrhea. research has shown that Lactobacillus GG can shorten the course of infectious diarrhea in infants and children (but not adults). Although studies are limited and data are inconsistent, two large reviews, taken together, suggest that probiotics reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 60%, when compared with a placebo.
Probiotics and vaginal health.
Probiotics may also be of use in maintaining urogenital health. Like the intestinal tract, the vagina is a finely balanced ecosystem. The dominant Lactobacilli strains normally make it too acidic for harmful microorganisms to survive. But the system can be thrown out of balance by a number of factors, including antibiotics, spermicides, and birth control pills. Probiotic treatment that restores the balance of microflora may be helpful for such common female urogenital problems as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, and urinary tract infection.
Are probiotics supplements safe to take?
Probiotics are generally considered safe, they're already present in a normal digestive system, although there's a theoretical risk for people with impaired immune function. Be sure the ingredients are clearly marked on the label and familiar to you or your health provider.