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Go with your gut

Probiotic supplements may help digestive issues, but be cautious


Probiotic supplements have become an increasingly popular product advertised to boost your immune system and improve digestive health. But as with all supplements and over-the-counter products, consumers should be cautious and take care before adding probiotics to their daily routine.

Probiotics are living microscopic organisms or bacteria found naturally in the human body. Probiotic supplements are made to be similar to the microorganisms that are referred to as the “good bacteria” found in the gut.

Some of the most common digestive issues for which probiotics may be beneficial are:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) Bifidobacterium infantis, Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus plantarum, and combination probiotics may help regulate bowel movements and relieve bloating.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) Some studies suggest that probiotics may help reduce inflammation and delay the next bout of disease. E. coli Nissle, and a mixture of several strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus may be most beneficial.

Infectious diarrhea Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus may shorten the duration of infectious diarrhea.

Antibiotic-related diarrhea such as Clostridium difficile (C. diff) There is evidence that taking probiotics when you first start taking an antibiotic may help prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea. Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus may also help treat C. diff and prevent it from reoccurring.

Other potential uses for probiotics, requiring further study, include reducing the occurrence and duration of common respiratory illnesses, and preventing and treating certain skin conditions like eczema.

Although probiotics appear safe for most people, you should talk to your physician before adding them to your diet and make sure your pharmacist is aware you are taking them if you take other medications. Studies suggest probiotics have few side effects, but there may be a risk of serious side effects in people with underlying health conditions.

Since probiotics are considered dietary supplements, health benefits claimed by manufacturers are not FDA-regulated or FDA-approved.  KL

Aimee Adams, Pharm.D., a UK HealthCare clinical pharmacist, from the July 2015 issue.

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