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Do Probiotics Work?

Written by Adam Whitby

Currently the main use of probiotics is in helping to relieve gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, and also in some skin conditions such as eczema, or to help with Candida overgrowth or thrush.  Research is continuing however into their use in many other areas. Many doctors recommend daily probiotic supplements for healthy people to maintain good digestive health and a strong immune system.

It has long been known that the gut is host to a mixture of helpful and beneficial bacteria (probiotic bacteria) and harmful or ‘pathogenic’ bacteria, which are collectively known as the intestinal ‘flora’. The science behind the use of probiotics began in 1907 when Elie Metchnikoff (Nobel prize winner for research on cellular immunity) suggested that reducing the number of bad or pathogenic bacteria in the gut with lactic acid bacteria (one of the good types of bacteria), could normalise bowel health and thereby ‘prolong life’ as he said.

Since those days, probiotics have become an effective everyday supplement to maintain health and wellbeing.  Many people find probiotics very useful for symptoms like bloating, low energy levels of sluggish bowels. In a survey of physicians in the USA, published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 98% said that probiotics have a role in helping gastrointestinal illnesses and symptoms. 93% said they currently had patients taking probiotics, most often for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), while others recommended probiotics for antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD) and C. difficile (Clostridium difficile) associated diarrhoea. They concluded that they would like to see further studies carried out.

Probiotics naturally help with a wide variety of digestive issues.

A course of antibiotics not only destroys bacteria causing infection, but unfortunately also kills off the good bacteria upon which good digestion relies. On-going research at the University of Maastricht in Germany, is looking at the role that probiotics can play in preventing the many side effects that come about from taking antibiotics on their own, such as antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD) caused by toxins of Clostridium difficile, plus the antibiotic resistance of bacteria, the disturbance of the intestinal microbiota, and the use of probiotics for the prevention of these effects. They have so far concluded that. “Research in this field is gaining more attention and this may hold a very interesting application of probiotics during and after antibiotic treatment for the near future.” The full study can be found here.

Another study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2006 entitled 'Meta-Analysis of Probiotics for the prevention of Antibiotic Associated Diarrhea and the Treatment of Clostridium difficile Disease' concluded that probiotics can significantly reduce the incidence of AAD [antibiotic associated diarrhoea] and are an effective treatment for CDD [Clostridium difficile disease].

When you have to take antibiotics, you might also be prescribed multivitamins because B vitamins can be depleted by antibiotic treatment. It has been theorised that this loss of B vitamins is actually due to the destruction of probiotic bacteria that naturally produces these nutrients. Supporting good bacteria at this time makes sense, particularly as there is some concern that large doses of certain B vitamins at the same time as antibiotics might detract from their antibiotic activity.

Taking probiotics can also prevent other side effects of antibiotics such as diarrhoea and thrush, by correcting the imbalance of gut microbiota before they cause an upset. So not only are probiotics good for digestive problems, they can also improve food intolerance or allergy and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and deal with low energy and a poor immune system.

Why take it from me though, have a look at these probiotic reviews before you make up your mind. 

About Adam Whitby

Adam has been involved in health and medicine for over thirty years, mostly reviewing clinical studies for general practitioners, writing patient information leaflets and producing medical video programmes.

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