Paging Dr. Frischer: Probiotics

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I’m a fan of probiotics. Our gut maintains a balance of bacteria, which has an impact on our health. This balance can be thrown off when we take antibiotics, have various diseases, change our diet, or have particular medical conditions. However, it’s complicated: probiotics are not an automatic fix, or even helpful for everyone.

Although bacteria and other microorganisms are often thought of as harmful, many are crucial in order for our body to function properly. In terms of sheer quantity, bacteria outnumber the cells in our body by an impressive factor of ten to one. Bacteria in our intestines help to digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins.

Probiotics are among these beneficial live bacteria or yeast microorganisms. When taken as supplements, they can colonize our intestinal tract. The many potential benefits of a good balance of bacteria are still being studied, including weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, healthier skin and a reduced risk of some diseases. Note that there is some uncertainty regarding the long-term safety information of probiotics. Most of our knowledge comes from studies of the two most common bacteria contained in probiotics: lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Less is known about other probiotics.

But overall, probiotics have a good safety record among those who are generally healthy. Side effects usually consist only of mild digestive symptoms, such as gas. On the other hand, critically ill patients, those who have had surgery, very sick infants, and those with weakened immune systems may have severe side effects, including dangerous infections.

Beware of claims made by some manufacturers. The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have issued warnings and punishments on manufacturers of probiotics whose labels claim to treat a disease or condition. Similarly, the European Food Safety Authority has rejected all petitions for health claims, due to insufficient evidence.

My recommendations:

  • ·If you’re considering taking probiotics as a dietary supplement, consult your doctor first. This is especially important if you have health issues.

  • Don’t replace scientifically proven treatments with unproven products and practices.

  • Don’t use a health product like probiotics as a reason to postpone seeing your doctor.

  • Tell all of your doctors about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. To ensure the most coordinated, safest, and best care, always provide a full picture of what you do to manage your health.