Probiotics are one of the biggest trends in new age diets, but unlike many of the fads that abound, there is mounting scientific evidence that probiotics are an effective treatment for many common conditions.
So what exactly is a probiotic? Probiotics are living organisms, usually bacteria but also technically including yeasts and viruses. The body has high levels of naturally occurring bacteria, which help with many important bodily functions. However in some cases, these bacteria can be killed, or their levels reduced, by medical conditions or medical treatments. Probiotic supplements contain bacteria that are very similar to those that occur naturally, giving your body a boost when it is running low.
One of the most common probiotics is lactobacillus. This bacteria occurs naturally in many fermented foods, most commonly yoghurt. These foods alone are a good way to boost your levels of good bacteria, but if you are treating a specific condition you may want to investigate a supplement in capsule or powder form, which contains much higher levels of several strains of healthy bacteria. Because these supplements are live, they must be stored in the fridge to prolong their shelf life. Avoid probiotic supplements which are stored at room temperature.
Probiotics are reported to be effective in treating many conditions, but valid scientific tests are required before some of these claims can be proven. However some research has already shown that there are demonstrable improvements in diarrhea, IBS symptoms, yeast infections, and some skin conditions. In some cases, the high levels of good bacteria crowd out the problem yeasts or bacteria – in other cases, your immune system is stimulated to fight the infection.
There are relatively few side effects and these are usually minor. Common symptoms include flatulence or minor digestive problems. If you have an ongoing medical condition, it is wise to consult your doctor before taking any new medication. However after a course of antibiotics or similar, a probiotic can be an effective way to restore your body’s natural balance.