Probing Probiotics and Their Health Effects
You can find them in everyday products from yogurt to capsules. Perhaps you’ve wondered if probiotics and prebiotics could be the magic fix for your digestive issues. Or are advertisers’ claims of better health too good to be true?
If you’re suffering from symptoms of irritable bowel disorder—bloating, constipation or diarrhea—chances are you might have considered trying these supplements as a means to relieve them. Rob Danoff, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Philadelphia, provides answers to your common questions and a quick guide to help get you started.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well. They also encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.
What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?
You might have heard these terms in a television advertisement or radio promotion, but:
- What are probiotics and prebiotics?
- What’s the difference between the two?
Probiotics are living yeast or bacteria that have the ability to help the body’s digestive system.
According to Dr. Danoff, probiotics are living yeast or bacteria that have the ability to help the body’s digestive system. These “friendly” bacteria are similar to organisms that are naturally found in the body’s digestive tract. But are they beneficial to your health?
“For the most part, they are a good additive for the body,” says Dr. Danoff. “They balance the levels of bacteria in the intestines by driving down the harmful levels, while also boosting the body’s immune system.”
Do prebiotics work in the same way? “Prebiotics actually work together with probiotics,” says Dr. Danoff. “Prebiotics, which are non-digestible carbohydrates, operate as food for probiotics and help support the growth of probiotic bacteria by providing a suitable environment in which the probiotics can flourish.”
When prebiotics and probiotics are combined, they form a symbiotic relationship such as the kind you see with fermented dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, which contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.
Where can you find probiotics and prebiotics? According to Dr. Danoff, probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, sour pickles and sourdough bread, while prebiotics are found in whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey and artichokes. Probiotics and prebiotics are also added to some foods and are available as dietary supplements.
Should You Consider a Probiotic Regimen?
Confused about adding probiotics and prebiotics to your diet? “Consult with your physician,” advises Dr. Danoff. “While probiotics and prebiotics don’t work for everyone, they might work for you.”
Even though research is still ongoing, there is encouraging evidence that shows probiotics may help:
- Treat and ease the symptoms of diarrhea, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics.
- Prevent and potentially decrease the occurrence of urinary tract infections, as well as vaginal yeast infections.
- Treat as well as ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Speed the healing of certain intestinal infections.
- Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu.
- Ease the symptoms of eczema in children.
Selecting the right probiotic could be difficult as there are many differing effects and types. “While one might help treat an infection, another may have little to no effect,” explains Dr. Danoff.