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What are probiotics? Benefits and side effects

Most people associate bacteria and other microorganisms (microbes) with negative outcomes especially related to health despite their significant contribution to our lives and other economic activities. The concept of probiotics focuses on the positive interaction between people and other microorganisms in and on our bodies. For instance, the digestive and reproductive system constantly have a mix of good and bad bacteria. An infection usually means that the bad microorganisms have surpassed their threshold. Therefore, probiotics supplements represent a method to add good bacteria in the body.

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Common types of probiotics

Despite the existence of numerous beneficial microbes, lactobacillus spp and Bifidobacterium spp represent the most common probiotics found in stores. The lactobacillus is the most common probiotic and often found in fermented food. It can help in bloating, acid reflux, and even diarrhea. The lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) strain of lactobacillus is found in yogurt and has been shown to help with stomach ulcers by competing for substrate and binding sites as well as production of antimicrobial compounds such as lactic acid. Bifidobacteria are often used for constipation because they produce a lot of short-chain fatty acids which stimulate the gut muscles to push out waste. They also maintain healthy levels of "good" bacteria so that you don't get sick as easily. One study indicated that probiotics can increase the amount of good bacteria in a host by 700% following treatment with antibiotics. This is especially important as some people may have a breakdown of their normal gut flora after using antibiotics on their body for a long period of time. Probiotics also help to increase the immunity that the host has against different types of bacteria and viruses and other harmful microorganisms.

What are the benefits of probiotics?

Probiotics supplements help in controlling the immune system, and improving gut, mouth, vagina, urinary tract, skin, and lungs health. Concerning the digestive tract, probiotics effectively manage gut issues such as colic, diarrhea, indigestion and constipation. They also improve bowel movements by stimulating peristaltic movement which reduces flatulence. Additionally the World Health Organization indicates that probiotics can help improve lactose intolerance in people of all ages. Probiotics prevent other digestive issues like acute and serious infections by strengthening the immune system. The immune system protects the body from infections through various reactions that affect both body tissues and microorganisms. An immune response is activated upon detecting foreign bacteria, viruses and toxins in and outside the body. Ideally, higher concentrations of useful microbes in the gastrointestinal tracts prevents its colonization by harmful bacteria thus reducing an inflammatory response. Dietary probiotics supplements are recommended for people who do not regularly consume dairy food with high probiotic counts. Some good sources of probiotic microbes for the gut include fresh yogurt, aged cheeses, aged egg yolks, coconut water and fermented dairy products like miso and tempeh as well as dietary supplements.

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Microbiota imbalance in the urinary and reproductive system appear to contribute and trigger reproductive, hormonal, and metabolic disorders, especially for women. As such, probiotics also represent a topic of concern in reproductive health. A 2019 meta analysis study on the effect of probiotic therapy on bacterial vaginosis suggested that they exhibited short and long term treatment benefits. Other conditions that might be impacted by the ingestion of probiotics include yeast infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease, eczema (atopic dermatitis), upper respiratory infections (ear infections, common cold, sinusitis), and sepsis (specifically in infants).

Potential Side Effects

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The microbes present in probiotics naturally occur in the body which indicates that they are considered safe. The FDA does not need to approve these dietary supplements unlike other medications. Therefore, one should understand that manufacturers can easily sell these products with high confidence about their safety and effectiveness without considerable consequences. If you are considering a probiotic regimen you should know that it has potential adverse repercussions for people with a weakened immune system, critically ill, and those who recently had surgery. Moreover, their safety is also questionable for pregnant or breast-feeding women and children. It is believed that probiotics may even trigger serious health complications in some cases.

First, probiotics increase the risk of developing an infection for this group of people. Probiotics can also worsen their condition and potentially cause or exacerbate an existing infection. Since these individuals have already compromised immune systems, they are susceptible to infections when they use probiotics. It is recommended that physicians should alert these patients about the potential dangers of taking probiotics. For example, people with a suppressed immune system should avoid taking probiotics especially if it is taken orally. But if the supplement is applied topically, there are no safety risks for them because the microbes will not enter their bloodstream with heightened risks of dangerous complications from the uncontrolled growth of microorganisms. In addition, patients who just had surgery can be prone to infections when they take probiotics indiscriminately even after surgery regardless whether it is applied topically or orally.

Second, supplements can also lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. The bacteria present in probiotics are resistant to antibiotics. The microbes will then multiply and spread all over the body even with the administration of antibiotics which means that they can potentially cause more harm than good. Ingesting probiotics can also lead to some dangerous infections and treatment failure. This can also lead to antibiotic resistance in people with any bacterial infection.

Third, people who are critically ill should steer clear of probiotics because it might worsen their condition especially if it is taken orally. They should avoid using any dietary supplement especially if it contains live microbes because it may end up exacerbating their illnesses from the harmful byproducts of the microbes.

Take Away

Generally, both adults and children can benefit from the health impacts of probiotics. One potential situation that calls for the supplements is after taking antibiotic medication to help repopulate gut microbiota. However, one should consider consulting their healthcare provider or pediatrician since not all probiotics behave in the same way to all individuals.

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