The Pros and Cons of Probiotics

stk151177rkeA normal human digestive tract has about 400 different kinds of probiotics, which are bacteria that help maintain the normal balance of organisms in the intestines. Probiotics are found naturally in some foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and tempeh. There are also probiotic supplements on the market.

Eating foods that contain probiotics is good for your immune and digestive systems. It’s a good idea to incorporate these foods into your daily diet, especially if you have any gastrointestinal disorder, such as IBS or IBD. There are not bad side effects of probiotics, unless your immune system is compromised. The elderly, cancer patients and others who may be immunocompromised should consult with their healthcare provider before adding probiotics to their diet.

Probiotics can be helpful if you have experienced antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Taking antibiotics can wipe out the good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics help that bacteria repopulate. They are also useful after experiencing a Clostridium difficile infection, something many patients with ulcerative colitis experience. Research findings on the effectiveness of probiotic supplements are lacking, but research is ongoing. One probiotic strain, Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, has been shown effective in research. If you are evaluating probiotic supplements, you want one that has colony forming units in the billions. That information will be on the supplement’s label.

If you start taking a probiotic supplement, you may experience some bloating in the first few days as the bacteria are populating. You need to keep taking the probiotic supplement for at least one or two months to determine if it is effective for you. It takes that long for the bacteria to fully colonize.

Researchers are focusing now on what specific probiotic strains may be useful for treating various conditions. They are looking at the effectives of probiotics on obesity, allergies, excema, diarrhea, constipation, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. Hopefully the research finds that certain probiotics are effective treatments for these conditions.

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Van_DamLauren Van Dam, MS, RD, CNSC, is a nutritionist with the University of Michigan’s Crohn’s and Colitis Program. She works with patients in the program educating them about specialty diets that can significantly improve their symptoms. She sees patients at the Taubman Center.



The University of Michigan Digestive and Liver Health HS_180x180services is one of the largest programs in the country, providing prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases involving the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Our 60-plus physicians are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of all diseases of the gastrointestinal system.