What patients should know about probiotics

Probiotics | American Gastroenterological Association  – retrieved June 2018

Probiotics are living, microscopic (very small) organisms that can help your gut health.

Most often, probiotics are bacteria, but they may also be other organisms, such as yeastsExperts are still studying and sorting out exactly how probiotics work.  

They may:

  • Boost your immune system.
  • Help prevent infection.
  • Stop harmful bacteria from attaching to the gut lining and growing there.
  • Send signals to your cells to build up the mucus in your gut and help it act as a barrier against infection.
  • Stop or kill toxins released by certain bacteria that can make you sick.
  • Promote the growth of other bacteria that can improve your health.
  • Maintain healthy skin and a healthy nervous system.

Many types of bacteria may be probiotics. Research is being done to learn more.

The most common probiotic bacteria come from two groups, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Probiotics can now be found as a pill or powder, or in some foods, such as yogurt.

Experts and doctors say more studies are needed to help find out which probiotics are helpful and which might be a waste of money.

What patients should know about probiotics | American Gastroenterological Association – May 10, 2018 – By Purna Kashyap, MBBS

Along with the growing interest in the connection between the gut microbiome and human health, probiotic products have become increasingly popular. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which when consumed in adequate amounts confer health and benefit to the host.”

There is a lot of research ongoing about the safety and efficacy of probiotics, especially in patients with GI disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

While probiotics are generally regarded as safe, studies up-to-date have failed to show a consistent, reproducible, clinically meaningful effect in majority of conditions tested.

In a recent analysis of 14 Cochrane reviews on probiotics for GI disorders, the authors reported that the majority of the reviews reported insufficient evidence to determine if probiotics conferred a benefit.

This analysis also highlighted inconsistencies in how probiotics studies are described in the literature. For example, while most of the studies reported dosage, many did not specify the strain(s) contained in the probiotic and most did not specify any follow-up beyond the initial intervention.

Beyond study design, there are other key questions that are still being investigated such as the best way to deliver probiotics to the gut (as a pill, in food, other approaches?), the stability and efficacy of probiotics at room temperature vs. refrigeration, and of course what combination of strains are effective in which subset of patients.

To help address patient questions on the topic, I worked with my AGA microbiome center colleague Geoffrey Preidis, MD, PhD, to develop a new resource for patients in the AGA GI Patient Center on probiotics (available in English and Spanish).

We summarize, in patient-friendly language, what we do and do not know about probiotics, who might consider taking a probiotic, and how to approach choosing a probiotic product.

This resource is freely available to the public at www.gastro.org/probiotics and I encourage you to share it with your patients who are considering probiotics.

Author: Purna Kashyap, MBBS, scientific advisory board member for the AGA Center for Gut Microbiome Research and Education

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  1. Pingback: Healthy gut, healthy heart? | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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