What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics, according to the World Health Organization, are "live organisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." Probiotics literally mean "for life" (did you know that antibiotics literally mean "against life" … interesting, ah?) and are coming to the forefront of medicine as beneficial bacteria supplements to help restore our vital microflora.
The digestive system is home to more than 500 different types of bacteria. They help keep the intestines healthy and assist in digesting food.
Researchers believe that some digestive disorders happen when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines becomes disturbed. This can happen after an infection or after taking antibiotics. Intestinal problems can also arise when the lining of the intestines is damaged. Taking probiotics helps to restore the balance to the intesinal track.
Benefits of Probiotics to Your Health
Probiotics can improve intestinal function and maintain the integrity of the lining of the intestines
These friendly organisms may also help fight bacteria that cause diarrhea. There’s also evidence that probiotics help maintain a strong immune system.
Although they are still being studied, probiotics may help several specific illnesses, studies show. In 2011, experts at Yale University reviewed the research. They concluded that probiotics are most effective for:
- Treating childhood diarrhea
- Treating ulcerative colitis
- Treating necrotizing enterocolitis, a type of infection and inflammation of the intestines mostly seen in infants
- Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea
- Preventing pouchitis, an inflammation of the intestines that can follow intestinal surgery
- Treating and preventing eczema associated with cow’s milk allergy
- Helping the immune system
The Yale University panel of experts concluded that probiotics may be helpful in other ways, although the evidence is less convincing. These include:
- Treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- Treating vaginitis
- Treating diarrhea caused by C. difficile bacteria
- Treating Crohn's disease
Probiotics may also be useful in unexpected ways. A study published in 2010 suggests that probiotics may lower the risk of common childhood illnesses such as ear infections, strep throat, and colds.
Which Probiotics to Use?
There is many different probiotics available on the market today. However, not all probiotics are created equal. So, how can you tell if a probiotic will be beneficial to your health?
First, you need to know if the strain is beneficial for you. Within each family, or genus, of bacteria, there are many species and each of those species has hundreds of strains. For example, Lactobacillus is the family (genus), acidophilus is the species, and NAS or DDS-1 are strains.
Not all strains provide health benefits. This is why you must rely on a reputable probiotics manufacturer to research and formulate its probiotics with the best and most beneficial bacteria available.
The following tips are the most important things you need to look for when purchasing a probiotic supplement:
- Look for the International Good Manufacturing Practice certification (cGMP), which will ensure that you are receiving the highest quality probiotic that meets unequaled standards. This also guarantees that the product has been tested for potency and safety in all stages from the culturing of the bacteria through the printed expiration date.
- You must also look for a potency guarantee for each strain listed on the bottle label through the printed expiration date. The listing must include the strain, not just the genus and species. Without the strain listed, you may be getting a worthless bacteria.
- Probiotics must be stored and shipped refrigerated for the bacteria to live. Several probiotic companies claim that they have shelf-stable products but these have never been proven effective.
- Purchase only a probiotic with its supernatant (culturing medium). This provides nourishment for the probiotic and has been found to increase the benefits of the probiotic by up to 50 percent.
- The packaging is an important way to keep the bacteria protected. Dark glass bottles and tin lids protect the probiotics from the damaging effects of light and moisture.