Some Bacteria Can Be a Good Thing

Everything you want to know about probiotics but are afraid to ask

(RxWiki News) Did you know there are more bacterial cells in your gut than human cells in your whole body? It’s true. But there’s no need to panic.

You have probably heard of terms like “good germs,” "good bacteria" or “friendly bacteria.” If you're like many people, you have probably wondered what makes them so friendly.

Here are some things good bacteria do for us:

  • Good bacteria produce vitamins and nutrients we can use. For example, many bacteria that live in the intestines produce vitamin K, which helps control bleeding.
  • They aid in digestion. Many gut bacteria produce an enzyme that allows the breakdown of lactose (sugar found in milk and dairy products) into usable pieces for us.
  • Good bacteria take up all the good real estate:
    • Bacteria can thrive inside the human body. This is because their ideal environment includes a warm, cozy food and water supply.
    • When the “good guys” take up all the space, the “bad guys” (bad bacteria) have nowhere to move in.

Probiotics contain live organisms — bacteria, yeast or both in combination. Prebiotics, on the other hand, can be thought of as “probiotic food.” These are the nutrients that encourage the good bacteria to thrive. Synbiotics are a mixture of probiotics and prebiotics.

How are these probiotics products sold?

  • They can be found as supplements, such as tablets, capsules, powders and liquid extracts.
  • Probiotics may be added to foods like dairy products (yogurt and cheese), as well as other foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.
  • You may find them in non-food products, such as body lotions and face creams.

What can probiotics do for your health? They have been tested for the following potential benefits:

  • Reducing diarrhea (either from infection or antibiotic use)
  • Reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Maintaining general gut health
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Decreasing skin irritation from eczema

Do they work? Some experts say yes, but others say no. Some people who have tried them say they work, while others who have tried them say they do not work. And some try many different varieties before discovering a probiotic that works for them.

Scientific studies on this subject are mixed so far. More studies are still ongoing and will hopefully yield more definitive results.

Are probiotics safe? Many healthy people experience no or mild adverse effects from increasing probiotics in their diet. The most common side effect is bloating and gas, which typically goes away after the first week. As with any new dietary substance, you may experience allergic reactions to one or more of the ingredients.

All probiotics are not created equal. Different supplements or supplemented food products contain different species or combinations of species. Higher cost does not indicate higher quality. And higher counts and more variety do not necessarily produce better results.

Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before adding new medications, herbal supplements or products like probiotics to your routine. They will need to know about other medications and supplements you take and other health conditions you may have to ensure there will be no interactions. It's especially important to speak up if you:

  • Are taking antibiotics or have an active infection (especially fungal)
  • Are immune-compromised or take medications that may compromise immunity (such as steroids)
  • Are pregnant
  • Have a history of pancreatitis

These conditions may increase the likelihood that probiotics are not the right choice for you at this time.

Written by Digital Pharmacist Staff

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 26, 2019