Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Trusting Your Gut--Should You Be Taking Probiotics?


Blog contributed by Bethany Rhoads PA-C, Camp Hill Evening Care

Sometimes it may seem like there is always a new healthcare product or trend hitting the market and gaining awareness that you may begin to wonder if it is something you should be taking or using. One that seems to be getting some attention in the media and pharmacy aisle right now is probiotic supplements.  For example, I am sure we have all seen Jamie Lee Curtis advertising "Activia" on many TV commercials.  It can be very confusing to navigate around these products and verify health claims to figure out what is best for you and your particular health concern or situation.

The concept of probiotics has actually been around for quite some time, since the early 20th century.  The term "probiotics" actually means "for life" and describes live microorganisms (such as bacteria or yeast) that can work beneficially to your health when ingested. Most commonly you will see formulations containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Research has shown that probiotics may work by restoring the delicate balance of the environment of our gastrointestinal (GI) tract, by reducing harmful organisms and stimulating your body's immune response.  To understand this, you must first realize that we all contain a certain makeup of healthy bacteria within our body and our GI system that is present since birth.  When this environment gets disrupted, such as with antibiotic over usage, GI and other health problems can occur.

So what are the recommendations regarding probiotic usage? Unfortunately, as with many things in medicine, the guidelines are not clear cut.  There is still research being done to confirm in which situations or diseases probiotic supplementation may be most beneficial, and at what dosage and which specific product or formulation.  Most commonly, probiotics are used in conjunction with treatments for antibiotic associated diarrhea (AAD), infectious diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and some inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohns disease or Ulcerative Colitis.  The possible benefits and side effects with the latter diseases are a little more complicated, and should be talked about with your healthcare provider if you have further questions.

However, research has shown with strong evidence that probiotics can be beneficial in the prevention/treatment of acute diarrhea and AAD. They have been shown to shorten the duration of symptoms in infectious diarrhea, and prevent the symptoms when administered for the same length of the antibiotic therapy.  There are many different products available over-the-counter, such as powders, capsules, fortified drinks or yogurts. You should realize that these supplements are not regulated by the FDA; and therefore, can differ quite a bit from one product to another. The usage of probiotics seems to be generally safe in the outpatient setting, but may not be with certain immune disorders or infections. The best way to decide if probiotic supplementation, and which product, is right for you is to talk to your health care provider! If you are prescribed an antibiotic or are suffering from acute diarrhea, ask your physician or mid-level provider if they think a probiotic would be beneficial. The best way to "trust your gut" is to trust the advice of your healthcare professional, so make sure you have found a PinnacleHealth primary care provider with whom you can have an open and confident relationship.  This is important for all aspects of your health!

Sources:NIH "Oral Probiotics: An Introduction"Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology "Use of probiotics: what to recommend?"

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