Probiotics: Benefits and Side-Effects

The word probiotic derived from Greek, pro means for and bios mean life. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that naturally live in the gut. In fact, the number of microorganisms in the human body outnumbers the number of cells. The microbes enter into the gut on their own immediately after birth gut through vaginal birth, breast milk etc. The concept of drinking fermented milk curing gut illness is mentioned in ancient scripts like the bible and Vedas. It is not an exaggeration but a fact that the prolonged life of Bulgarian peasants is because of yoghurt consuming custom.

Probiotics are part of regular diet in different cultures with different names like curd, pickles, yoghurts, kefyr, kimchi, kombucha, saeur craft and so on. Promoting healthy gut microbiome, balancing immune function, enhancing nutrient absorption and production, maintaining healthy weight-reducing fatigue are a few of many health benefits attributed to the probiotics

How good and safe is the probiotic drinks/food that have become a rage these days? 

Nowadays, due to rampant change in lifestyle and food habits awareness for a probiotic supplement is much needed. Due to chloride in water, processed food in the diet, availability of over the counter medications like antibiotics pose a threat to the natural microbiome and frequent supplementation may be a necessity. 

Probiotic drinks/food have become a rage these days in the food industry. Some insight is needed for consumers before including these as a part of the diet. Plain greek yoghurt, kefyr tangy fermented food drink and saeurcraft are the best sources of probiotics. All these supplements contain bacteria that are freeze and dried but still become alive when they enter into the gut.  Efficacy of probiotics largely varies from person to person depending on the type of active culture used.

Probiotic food drinks are not just healthy bacteria they contain added sugar, almost comparable to 100ml cool drinks. Added milk powder can be a cause of gut inflammation, and flavouring agents and preservatives are not so good for health. Are probiotics good? Definitely a yes but gulping them with sugar-laden ultra-processed food is not a good idea. 

What one should look for when buying probiotic food/drink?

Choose a probiotic that contains microorganism proven to get the desired effect. For example, Lactobacillus may be helpful for someone who cannot digest lactose the sugar in milk, Bifidobacterium for someone with IBS and saccharomyces for diarrhoea. Check the expiry date when purchasing a probiotic; Make sure the bacteria are viable. The manufacturer should specify how many bacteria are viable at the end of shelflife. Colony-forming units should be in billions always. There should not be any leakage or swelling of the package. Some people may get diarrhoea and bloating initially when using probiotics.

How effective it is to a patient with gastro related issues?

Probiotics have proven benefit in gut problems like functional GI disorders, infantile colic, constipation, ulcerative colitis and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. But if probiotics are considered for therapeutic purposes it is better to use products regulated by FDA. Probiotics are not a replacement for proven treatment. Though probiotics boost immunity in a normal person they can become a source of infection in immunologically challenged patients.

Can a person consume probiotic food/drink even when he has no gut issues?

Yes, probiotics have some role in non-GI related conditions allergies like eczema, hormone disorders like thyroid, acne, depression and fatigue. But research in these areas still in progress and it is always advised to take probiotics after discussing with your doctor.

 

DR. Bailuru Vishwanath Tantry

HOD – Gastroenterology Dept

KMC Hospital, Dr B R Ambedkar Circle, Mangalore

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