Consumer advice for using probiotics

By Barbara A Troy M.S., R.D., C.D., College of Health Sciences, College of Nursing, School of Dentistry – Probiotics are live microorganisms which have the ability to confer health benefits on the host (human body).  Since most probiotics are bacteria, many people refer to probiotics as simply the “good bacteria”.  In recent years, more research has been done on many probiotics which include potential benefits in treating diarrheas and irritable bowel syndrome, and enhancing immune function of the GI system.  However, there are also a lot of outrageous claims easily found on the Internet which are not supported by peer reviewed research. This is largely because probiotics are legislated as dietary supplements which mean they are not mandated to prove safety or effectiveness prior to marketing.

The following list is intended to help consumers make informed decisions about probiotic use.

  1. Start food based.  Eat healthy, meaning consume foods rich with prebiotics, the food source of probiotics.  This includes plenty of fresh multi colored fruits and veggies, and soluble fiber foods such as oat bran, lentils, pinto beans and carrots.
  2. Add natural probiotic foods or food enriched with probiotics.  This includes Kefir, yogurts with “Live” active cultures (as indicated on the label, and probiotic enriched cereals and bars).
  3. Consider a probiotic supplement that is supported for the intended use by peer reviewed research.  Pay attention to the full name of the probiotic source so that it exactly matches the probiotic studied in the research.
  4. Watch for advice on recommended doses in the literature and on the specific probiotic used.  Doses will be expressed in CFUs, colonizing forming units, and will likely be in the billions.
  5. Talk to your primary care provider and/or a trusted pharmacist about probiotic selection.

Remember that probiotics must be used regularly and at proper dose if benefits are to be realized.  If no change is noted after one month of use, the probiotic may not be beneficial to you.  If possible, store probiotics in the refrigerator to extend shelf life.

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