According to both the National Institutes of health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the World health Organization (WHO), probiotics are live organisms-generally bacteria – that share some similarity to the live organisms commonly found within human intestines and colons. Essentially, humans rely on a complex balance of live organisms in the intestines, colon, and even the skin to maintain good digestive health and fight off bacteria that can cause illness.
However, certain medical conditions as well as medications (like antibiotics) can alter this balance leading to problems like gas, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, and infections in the stomach and vagina. Advocates claim that probiotics – sold either as supplements of contained naturally in some foods – can be used to restore that delicate balance, thereby helping resolve or treat these issues.
Probiotics in our food
Foods that contain probiotics include yoghurt, unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, kefir and some soy beverages. Probiotics are also sold as powders and tablets primarily at health food stores. The makers of Activia yoghurt, for example, claim on their website that when taken daily, probiotics in the yoghurt can regulate your digestive system by “Helping reduce long intestinal transit time.”
Though people have reported good results when using probiotics, both the WHO and the NIH say that scientific evidence to support all of the claims is limited and more research needs to be done. They also point out that the effects of one strain of probiotics may not necessarily be the same for another. That said, the NIH in 2005 did explore some of the benefits of probiotics and found some encouraging evidence of to support its use to help reduce the occurrences of diarrhea, infections of the urinary tract or female genital tract, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); and to reduce the recurrence of bladder cancer, shorten the duration of intestinal infections, and prevent and treat inflammation following colon surgery.
There’s also evidence to suggest that probiotics can reduce cold symptoms and duration in children.
While we may need more research to confirm the benefits of probiotics, early evidence and anecdotal stories suggest that probiotics may help keep the gastroenterologist away.
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