A healthy digestive system is vital to good health. The food that you eat is processed and the nutrients you consume are absorbed in the digestive system. However, it is also home to much of your immune system. This makes it important for helping you fight off illnesses. Probiotic supplements may help to balance the gut to promote increased digestive health and improved overall health as a result. However, more studies are needed.
Achieving Balance in the Gut
While it produces no sensations for you to detect, an entire natural ecosystem is living in your digestive tract. In the average person, 100 trillion microorganisms reside in the healthy bowel with more than 500 different species accounted for in their vast numbers. Some of these bacteria are harmful and can produce symptoms of illness. However, there are healthy good bacteria present to keep them in check. Among these bacteria are Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium or bifidus. In some people, levels of the healthy bacteria are below the norm. Low levels can be caused by taking antibiotics, which kill good bacteria. This allows harmful bacteria to reproduce rapidly and cause various symptoms. Probiotic rich foods and dietary supplements may help to re-balance the gut. They add live cultured good bacteria to the stomach. In addition, the healthy bacteria may assist with digestion, strengthen the immune system and help nutrients become absorbed more efficiently.
Probiotics for Medical Conditions
Because of the way that beneficial probiotic bacteria affects the digestive system, some researchers speculate that taking probiotic supplements could help to address symptoms of certain medical conditions. A clinical review published in "Canadian Family Physician" concluded that there was promising evidence that probiotics could be beneficial for people with a digestive disease called inflammatory colitis. They may also help to improve symptoms of vaginal infections. However, the review stated that more research was needed to prove the benefits of good bacteria for these conditions. Research is also investigating the possible benefits for those with irritable bowel syndrome. Some scientists also speculate that probiotics could be beneficial for travel-related diarrhea and other types of stomach upset. These proposed uses are currently under investigation.
Kids and Probiotics
Like adults, children also require the proper balance of flora in the stomach to remain in good health. A major health care study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that probiotic supplements could be beneficial for children under certain circumstances. More research is needed. However, the study indicates that children who take probiotics at the first signs of viral diarrhea exhibit symptoms for shorter periods of time than those who do not. The study also found positive evidence that probiotics reduce the chances of diarrhea caused by antibiotic use in kids. More research is required to confirm these results. However, many pediatricians already recommend probiotics to parents based on the data.
Involving Your Physician
If you are considering taking a probiotic supplement or giving one to your child, be sure to involve your doctor in the decision. While probiotics are naturally found in the body, they may not be safe for individuals with certain illnesses and diseases. Only your doctor or your child's pediatrician can advise you as to whether or not probiotics are ideal for helping you promote digestive health.
This summary is intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of purity, strength, or safety of the products. As a result, effects may vary. You should read product labels. In addition, if you are taking medications, herbs, or other supplements you should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before taking a supplement as supplements may interact with other medications, herbs, and nutritional products. If you have a medical condition, including if you are pregnant or nursing, you should speak to your physician before taking a supplement. Consult a healthcare provider if you experience side effects.