Friday, June 17, 2016

If You're Healthy, You Don't Need Probiotics

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines probiotics as live bacteria that are "similar to beneficial organisms found in the gut." They're found in yogurt, fermented milk, soy products and some juices, as well as (these days) in probiotic capsules, pills, and powders. Many people make sure to get plenty of probiotics in the belief that a healthier population of gut bacteria makes for a healthier individual. It's a trend strongly encouraged by the rapidly growing probiotics dietary supplements industry.

The idea that probiotics may be good for you comes from the reports that patients with certain gastrointestinal conditions can benefit from taking probiotics. For example, patients with ulcerative colitis or who have diarrhea due either to antibiotics or to a particularly bad gut bacterium called Clostridium difficile may benefit from taking probiotics to more quickly restore their gut microbiota to normal.

What if you're healthy and just want to stay that way - should you spend your hard-earned money on probiotics? The answer, according to the latest research, is "no". The authors of the research reviewed the findings of seven studies that specifically identified the composition of gut bacteria in healthy people, before and after they took probiotics. They report that in healthy people, probiotics had essentially no effect on the final composition (in terms of both variety and number) of gut bacteria. In other words, healthy people develop and maintain a healthy steady-state population of gut bacteria naturally, on their own. Taking probiotics is only likely to be helpful when the gut's normal microbiota have been severely disrupted by antibiotics or disease.

Probiotics probably won't do you any harm, mind you; it's just that if you're healthy, they're unnecessary.

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