Probiotics are naturally occurring normal intestinal flora that help restore balance when attacked by foreign bacteria, restoring the body's "good" versus "bad" bacterial balance, which then helps to keep your body functioning properly. Although the body does not need the addition of specialized food and supplements that contain probiotics to be healthy, recent studies have shown there may be some benefits to consuming additional sources of probiotics. Food and supplements that contain probiotics assist the job of the "good" bacteria already present in your gut. Studies are currently being conducted to determine whether probiotics may help keep you healthy by:
- Decreasing the number of "bad" bacteria in your gut that can cause infections or inflammation
- Replacing the body's "good" bacteria (that have been lost when taking antibiotics, for example)
- Digestive tract conditions
- Treating and preventing inflammatory conditions, such as pouchitis
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease)
- Treating constipation
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Acid reflux
- Reducing the recurrence of bladder and colorectal cancer
- Prevent or treat urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections in women
- Boosting the immune system
Foods that contain probiotics include: yogurt, probiotic infused juices (such as Tropicana’s Essentials Probiotics Juice), soy drinks, fermented and unfermented milk, buttermilk, some soft cheeses, miso, tempeh, kefir, kim chi, sauerkraut, and many pickles, or can be consumed through supplement form. However, it is important to be aware of the fact dietary supplements do NOT need to be approved by the FDA. This means that manufacturers can sell supplements simply with "claims" of content, safety and effectiveness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any probiotics for preventing or treating any health problem. Some experts have cautioned that the rapid growth in marketing and use of probiotics may have outpaced scientific research for many of their proposed uses and benefits. Probiotic foods and supplements are generally considered to be safe since they are already naturally occurring in the body. However, they may also cause mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence (passing gas) and bloating for the first few days after starting to take them from the increased concentration and offsetting the body’s natural balance. The people who are most at risk of severe side effects are those in a vulnerable state including critically ill patients, those who have had surgery, sick infants, and those with weakened immune systems. It is important to always consult your physician before beginning any new supplement or medication.
A study was conducted with a specific culture, Lactobacillus GG, that was administered for 28 days, and showed no significant change to the intestinal flora immediately or a month after administration, resulting in a lack of evidence as to whether or not probiotics have an effect on fecal microbiota composition in healthy adults.
One study represented that probiotics may modestly reduce blood pressure. The study of 534 adults that consumed various strains of probiotics from milk, cheese, yogurt, or probiotic capsules daily for two months decreased their systolic blood pressure by -3.56mm Hg, and diastolic blood pressure by -2.38mm Hg, but blood pressure was not improved by those consuming fewer than the recommended amount.
Decreased gut functionality is often linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression. Those individuals receiving the probiotic presented improvements in depression symptoms by almost double (14 of 22 people) than those receiving the placebo (7 of 22 people), but had no effect on anxiety.
Fat and Weight Loss
Several preliminary studies suggest that probiotics (along with a restricted diet) may aid in fat loss or fat distribution. One study of overweight Japanese adults consumed Lactobacillus gasseri in a fermented milk product for 12 weeks and significantly reduced abdominal visceral fat by 4.6% and subcutaneous fat by 3.3%.
A study of Canadian women that began consuming a healthy diet and reduced caloric intake by 500 calories for 12 weeks along with the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosis also presented with increased weight loss of 9.7 pounds, while those receiving the placebo lost 5.7 pounds. While these studies present promising results, more studies are required to determine if there is a real benefit from probiotics for weight and fat loss.
Currently, researchers are undecided if probiotic supplements are effective, especially in already healthy adults. Some research says probiotics are effective, other research presents with inconclusive and contraindicating results that express they offer no benefit whatsoever. Probiotics are not all alike, so it also remains unclear which probiotics (or combination of probiotics) work to treat certain diseases. Although current research in appears promising for the use of probiotics for specific conditions and outcomes, strong scientific evidence to support specific uses of probiotics for most health conditions is lacking.
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