A number of friends have asked my opinion about probiotics, and since I haven’t looked at the research in a while, I thought this would be a good topic to review. Let’s start by defining what a probiotic is. A probiotic is ‘good bacteria’ that can help improve the functioning of our digestive system. Or if you would like a slightly more scientific definition ‘probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host’. We all have bacteria in our digestive system that ideally helps to keep us healthy. Sometimes the balance of good and bad bacteria can get a bit out of wack – and this is where probiotics may be able to help.
Who will benefit from probiotics?
I read a few studies that found probiotics can be useful in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. As you may be aware, antibiotics are prescribed to kill bacteria – except they will kill the good and bad bacteria in your body – hence why you are at increased risk of diarrhoea during or after a dose of antibiotics. This is when I will purchase products specifically for their probiotic content. In the last month every member of my family has been on antibiotics – so during the course of antibiotics and for around a week afterwards, I will give each of us a daily dose of a probiotic. What do I usually choose? Yakult. I cant find any actual evidence on the benefit of yakult but for me it is an easy and cost effective way to get probiotic into us. And it means no one gets the antibiotic associated diarrhoea, so for me that is good enough.
I didn’t find any evidence for the long term benefits of taking a probiotic. In my professional opinion, I would ask why people might choose to take a probiotic long term – it may be that their diet is in adequate in some areas, and I would suggest that be addressed first. Probiotics will not improve everything for you!
Caution should be exercised in using probiotics in people who are immune compromised – this might include the elderly, or those with a chronic disease. Probiotics are safe for use by healthy people.
Which probiotic should you choose?
You might have seen probiotics advertised on yoghurts, yoghurt drinks, or even in a pharmacy in the form of tablets, I guess it is probably personal choice, but as I mentioned for me I choose yakult as the kids consume it happily and it is easy to purchase from the supermarket. A few people have said they can't get their kids to drink yakult - I reckon it could be added to a milkshake or similar to mask the taste if that is a problem.
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