PROBIOTICS: DO YOU NEED THEM?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, mainly found in cultured dairy foods. Some research indicates that probiotics can have health benefits for the immune and digestive systems. However, the research is not conclusive, and some experts feel that adding probiotics to the diet is ineffective at best and possibly harmful at worst. Should you seek out fortified yogurt or probiotic supplements, or can you get along fine without them? Read the yes and no arguments below, then answer the questions that follow and submit to the discussion forum.
1) Which is the most compelling argument for taking probiotics? Why? 2) Which is the most compelling argument for not taking probiotics? Why? 3) Do you think that you know enough about probiotics from these arguments and your own reading to consume them regularly yourself? What about to recommend probiotic use to the general public? Why or why not?
- Research suggests that regular consumption of certain probiotics helps maintain the normal functioning of the digestive system. Also, studies indicate that probiotics can help in the prevention or treatment of (1) antibiotic-associated disorders, (2) gastroenteritis, (3) diarrhea, and (4) alleviation of lactose intolerance symptoms. Reference: Chmielewska and Szajewska (2010) British Journal of Nutrition 88 Suppl 1: S51-S57
- Some specific stains of probiotics have been shown to increase regularity in some people who have occasional constipation. Other strains have been studied for their role in decreasing frequency of irritable bowel syndrome and some inflammatory bowel conditions. Reference: Douglas and Sanders (2008) Journal of the American Dietetic Association 108:510-521.
- Probiotics are generally considered safe. Their safety is somewhat evident by the fact that they have a long history of use in dairy foods like yogurt, cheese and milk. Reference: American Gastroenterological Association, Patients Center (2008) “Probiotics: What they are and what they can do for you” Available at www.gastro.org.
- Though the burden lies with the manufacturer to make sure that the correct probiotic is added to the product and in adequate amounts, there is some regulation of supplement labeling. The FDA requires, but does not check, that the food label of these products contain accurate and relevant information. References: McGee (2009) “Answers to your questions about probiotics” Available at www.webmd.com; FDA (2006) “Question answered about DSHEA” Available at fda.gov
- We do not have sufficient information to be assured that probiotics are always beneficial and never harmful. Research is promising in several areas of digestive health, but more research is needed to confirm their effectiveness, safety, and optimal dosage and duration. Reference: American Dietetic Association (2009) “Hot topics sheet on probiotics and digestion” Available at eatright.org
- Some products have been evaluated in well-controlled studies, while others have no or not enough research to support their efficacy.
- Some consumers could experience gas or bloating when consuming probiotic products. The microorganisms may also have the potential to cause more serious side effects, especially in people with underlying health conditions. Individuals who have short bowel syndrome, a weakened immune system, a damaged intestinal lining, or are recovering from surgery are at a higher risk for side effects. These individuals should take probiotics only under the advice of a health care provider. Reference: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012) “An introduction to probiotics” Available at nccam.nih.gov
- Due to a lack of strict FDA regulation, various probiotic products may not consistently contain the correct type or amount of the microorganisms to be effective. Further, probiotics are not always delivered in the best vehicle (food versus supplement) and may be of variable quality. Reference: Joint FAO/WHO Working Group Report on Drafting Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food. London, Ontario, Canada, April 30-May 1, 2002
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