Probiotics and your gastrointestinal health

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Over the last several years, there has been a lot of attention focused on the use of supplemental probiotics to help alleviate gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases, mainly Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

The market for over-the-counter probiotics for consumers has exploded and some people take them for prevention even if they have no diagnosis of a GI disorder. I would not recommend this.

First, what are probiotics? They are made up of live microorganisms (good bacteria) that can help to improve gut health. Some are comprised of lactobacillus others of bifidobacterium. However, not everyone should be using them. Those with compromised immune systems or who are critically ill should not use probiotics.

Yogurt is a fabulous food source of probiotics.

Furthermore, a full assessment of medical tests, exams, nutritional intakes, and even mental health should be reviewed when dealing with GI disorders. IBS, for example, is a combination of gut-brain interactions. There are different types of IBS, and each has a different treatment path depending on symptoms present.

A combination of therapies is often required and that includes medications, diet, supplements, lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, even hypnosis. The use of oral microbiome therapeutics (probiotics) is under continual research. Patients should be careful not to introduce too many changes at once, such as trying a new medication plus a new diet plus a probiotic, as it will be difficult to untangle what is working. While probiotics are considered safe, they should be used with a health professional’s recommendation, tried for a set amount of time — such as four weeks — and the results should then be assessed.

There is promising research on the association of probiotics and mental health. Some studies show a positive correlation between the two, but more research is needed. There is also a need to study probiotics in food products versus taking oral supplement. Yogurts such as Activia have millions of live cultures that many patients find minimize their GI symptoms. Black Diamond Cheestrings Probiotic have over a billion live cultures. Both these products also contain calcium, vitamin D and protein.

We know that food products and their nutrients are better absorbed by our bodies then just taking a pill. Treating GI disorders is complicated and requires a multi-faceted approach. Probiotics can play a role but should be used with proper guidance and evaluation.

Lisa Lagasse

Lisa Lagasse
Charleswood community correspondent

Lisa Lagasse is a registered dietitian and community correspondent for Charleswood. Email her at Charleswoodres@gmail.com or find her on Twitter: @LisaRD42324393

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