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Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements

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Probiotics

What is probiotics?

Also known as "good" bacteria or intestinal flora, probiotics refers to a group of bacteria found in the intestines that play an important role in digestion and immunity.

Among the better-known probiotic bacteria are acidophilus, lactobacillus casei, bifidobacterium bifidum, bifidobacterium longum, and saccharomyces boulardii. All of them are responsible, in one way or another, for keeping the digestive system running.

How do probiotics aid in digestion? By producing a variety of compounds such as lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide and other materials. These compounds increase the acidity of the intestines, helping to digest foods and, in the process, killing harmful bacteria as well. Probiotics also produce substances called bacteriocins, which act as natural antiobiotics.

Probiotic bacteria also play a role in immunity. Studies have shown that some probiotics can boost immune levels in the elderly and prevent yeast infections from occurring in women. Probiotics also help produce different types of amino acids, which remove toxins from the intestines, and can prevent diarrhea from occurring, reducing the risk of infection.

How much probiotics should I take?

The amount of probiotics taken depends on how severe the body is lacking in probiotic bacteria, and how many harmful bacteria are in the body. Most practitioners recommend a dose that contains one billion to two billion colony forming units of probiotic bacteria such as acidophilus. Some studies have used saccharomyces bacteria at a rate of 500 mg four times per day.

What forms of probiotics are available?

Probiotic bacteria are found in a variety of dairy foods, such as live-culture yogurt and milk. Supplements containing probiotic bacteria are also available in powder, extract, capsule and tablet forms.

What can happen if I take too much probiotics? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

People who use large doses of antibiotics, suffer from chronic diarrhea or have poor eating habits are more likely to be deficient in probiotics than other people. Studies published in 1998 and 2000 suggested that people given saccharomyces boulardii could develop internal fungal infections; however, all of the people who developed these infections had impaired immune functions prior to being given probiotics. As of this writing, there are no known adverse reactions with any other probiotic supplements in people with normal immune systems. Some drugs, particularly antiobiotics, may cause depletion of probiotic bacteria. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking probiotics or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.

References

  • Arunachalam K, Gill HS, Chandra RK. Enhancement of natural immune function by dietary consumption of bifidobacterium lactis (HN019). Eur J Clin Nutr 2000;54:263-7.
  • Bassetti S, Frei R, Zimmerli W. Fungemia with saccharomyces cerevisiae after treatment with saccharomyces boulardii. Am J Med 1998;105:71-2.
  • Bengmark S. Colonic food: pre- and probiotics. Am J Gastroenterol 2000;95(1 Suppl):S5-7.
  • Bleichner G, Blehaut H, Mentec H, et al. Saccharomyces boulardii prevents diarrhea in critically ill tube-fed patients. A multicenter, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Intensive Care Med 1997;23:517-23.
  • Perapoch J, Planes AM, Querol A, et al. Fungemia with saccharomyces cerevisiae in two newborns, only one of whom had been treated with Ultra-Levura. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 2000;19:468-70.

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