Marketed as “friendly” bacteria that aid digestion, do these products provide true health benefits or are they simply hype? Dr. Eamonn Quigley, an expert in gut health, heads the gastroenterology and hepatology division at Houston Methodist Hospital. Here he addresses 5 common claims about probiotics.
Probiotics decrease the incidence of colds, allergies and eczema.
Probiotics are not a magic bullet, but those that contain live organisms may provide health benefits, like shortening the duration of a cold. They can also help with common intestinal symptoms and decrease urinary tract infections in women. There is even some evidence that probiotics might help you lose weight. There are trillions of strains of probiotics, and some are becoming more common in beauty products like lotions, skin creams and cosmetics. They’re also added to dental products like mints, gums and toothpaste. However, not all have been tested adequately to show that they contain live organisms.
All probiotics on the market have proven health benefits.
There’s a lot of hype in the marketplace, so you need to look for products that not only list a specific strain on the label but also offer readers easy access to scientific studies supporting the health benefit claims. Most of the valid products contain bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium that already live in your gut and help keep you healthy and digest your food. We still need to determine what are the best bacteria strains and doses for particular situations.
Examples of “valid” probiotic food products
The types of foods on the market claiming to deliver probiotics has expanded greatly over the past several years to include granola and candy bars, frozen yogurt, cereal, juice and cookies. Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 is the strain in Align, but Lactobacillus may be one of the most commonly known probiotics that comes in a variety of strains:
- Lactobacillus GG (often called LGG), which can be found in thediet supplement Culturelle, as well as some milk products in Finland;
- L. casei DN114 001 can be found in Dannon products; and
- L. casei Shirota is included in Yakult, a popular probiotic drink from Japan.
Probiotics can relieve everything from irritable bowel syndrome to high cholesterol.
Since probiotics are live microorganisms, when taken in large enough quantities, they can help improve and maintain the health of your gastrointestinal tract. If you boost the populations of good bacteria in your gut, it makes sense that you’re not only improving your gut health, but also benefitting other aspects of your health linked to the gut – including your immune system. This is because the gut encounters foreign substances every day in the food we eat, making it a major line of defense against potentially harmful pathogens.
Irritable bowel syndrome, with its range of unpleasant symptoms including bloating, flatulence and diarrhea, is a condition often treated over the counter with probiotics. The link between the gut and our immune system has also prompted great interest in the benefits of probiotics in treating a range of allergic and auto-immune conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease. There is growing evidence that gut flora plays a significant part in these diseases.
Fecal transplants can be an effective mega-probiotic.
We already know gut infections can be treated by introducing good bacteria. Now, more research shows that a reliable source of healthy bacteria may be healthy people’s feces to help restore the balance of bacteria. This certainly has the “ick” factor, but fecal transplants can have almost instant results in the sickest patients, like those who have experienced the gut infection, C. diff. (or Clostridium difficile), and are not responsive to antibiotics.
Fecal transplants can be performed in a number of ways. Once the feces is diluted with a liquid, like salt water, it is pumped into the intestinal tract via a colonoscope, a tube run through the nose into the stomach or small intestine, or an enema.
To talk with Dr. Eamonn Quigley, contact Gale Smith, GSmith@HoustonMethodist.org or 832.667.5843. For more information on Methodist, call 713.790.3333