It seems like every month, I meet a patient who strongly believes in probiotics and wants to talk about their experience with them. I’ve heard many people tell me that everyone should to be taking them and that they couldn’t live without them.
It is estimated that 4-5 million Americans have take probiotics in the last 30 days. Probiotics have turned into a billion dollar industry and you can find them in yogurt, miso soup, kefir, apple cider vinegar, and even pickles.
Here’s the thing though, you don’t necessarily need probiotics – a type of “good” bacteria – to be healthy. However, these microorganisms may help with digestion and offer protection from harmful bacteria, just as the existing “good” bacteria in your body already do (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
Last week I wrote about C Diff and how it can take over your gut, but I also mentioned that we have good bacteria in our GI tract as well. Some physicians recommend taking probiotics after a C Diff infection to help restore balance and good bacteria within the GI tract.
Now if you search the Internet, I promise you that you can find extreme positions on both sides of the argument. Some will argue that you MUST take probiotic supplements and that you simply can’t attain optimal health if you don’t. Others will say you don’t need them at all.
But I can say that if I was suffering from any type of GI problem, I’d probably be open to any suggestion that might help improve my day-to-day life. If that sounds like it could be you, I’d suggest that you do your own research on the probiotic topic, talk to your doctor, and see if it might be something for you.
In all honesty, their really isn’t enough research on probiotics to conclude just how beneficial they are to us, but there’s good evidence that some probiotics may be helpful in treating irritable bowel syndrome, some types of diarrhea, colitis (particularly ulcerative colitis and including the difficult to treat “pouchitis” found in ulcerative colitis), acne, and eczema in children. They may also be used with antibiotics to help prevent diarrhea that may come with taking antibiotics (WebMD, 2017).
Just this year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that even for healthy people, there are uncertainties about the safety of probiotics. Because many research studies on probiotics haven’t looked closely at safety, there isn’t enough information right now to answer some safety questions.
So what does all this mean?
I think there is certainly enough evidence to indicate that probiotics can help improve your digestive health, but before taking them you should consult your doctor. Probiotics may also have side effects (the most common is bloating), interactions and risks associated with using them, so again, it’s important that you talk with your doctor before you begin taking them.