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Making sense of probiotics

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (most commonly bacteria or yeasts) that provide positive health benefits when taken at an adequate dose. These microorganisms include particular strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii. Probiotics come in a variety of formulations including tablets, yoghurts and drinks.

What do probiotics do?

Research on probiotics has focussed primarily on their ability to improve digestive health and assist in gastrointestinal disorders ranging from diarrhoea to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Whilst research into the therapeutic uses of probiotics is ongoing, it is understood that probiotics may have three broad effects:

  1. Improving immunity and reducing inflammation,
  2. Antimicrobial activity, through the production of by-products or changes in pH levels that eliminate or alter certain intestinal bacteria, and
  3. Improving digestive health though the production of short-chain fatty acids which support the cells that line the large bowel.

How effective are probiotics?

New discoveries are constantly being made about probiotics. At this stage, studies support claims that probiotics may prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and may assist in shortening the duration of infectious diarrhoea in both adults and children. The use of particular probiotics shows promise in the prevention and treatment of pouchitis, a type of IBD. It is important to remember that only SOME strains of SOME bacteria have probiotic effects and they need to be taken at an adequate dose. Whilst numerous products claim to contain probiotics, caution is recommended before assuming that these products will have a therapeutic effect.

How safe are probiotics?

Probiotics are considered safe for people who are in generally good health and who are considered immunocompetent (have a strong immune system). However, caution is recommended for people who are immunocompromised (weak immune system), chronically ill or have underlying conditions that increase risk of infection.

For further information or advice on digestive health, please make an appointment to see a Dietitian at Mater Health and Wellness on 07 3163 6000.

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