Probiotics are live microorganisms that are similar to, or even the same as, beneficial bacteria found naturally in the human body. A wide variety of these “good” bacteria live in the gut, where they promote digestive health. How big of a variety? The digestive tract of healthy adults is home to trillions of microorganisms from over 500 different species. The most well-known groups of probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and within each group are different species that have different strains with different benefits. These regulate digestion and immune function, but sometimes are disrupted by medications or illness, and it becomes helpful to get probiotics in our diet. It still needs to be confirmed which probiotics (alone or in combination) work to treat which disorders or diseases, but here is what we know so far.
Uses of Probiotics
While the long-term effects of probiotic supplementation are unknown, most people who consume probiotics in food or take supplements do not have side effects. Some people do have minor intestinal discomfort, so start with a small amount. Also start with food sources to improve your chances of getting a variety, and remember that some strains of probiotics that work for specific symptoms may not be widely available in supplement form. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has made probiotic research a priority, and the future holds exciting possibilities. Stay tuned!
As seen in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND
is a nutrition educator with over 20 years experience as a college professor, nutrition coach, presenter and writer, as well as a nutrition consultant and founding director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.