Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts promoted as having various health benefits. They're usually added to yoghurts or taken as food supplements, and are often described as 'good' or 'friendly' bacteria.
They are thought to restore balance in the gut and manufacturers claim all sorts of health benefits including the prevention of antibiotic induced diarrhea, digestive issues, necrotising enterocolitis, allergy, colic, liver disease ...to name a few! What we need to remember is that as probiotics are deemed as a "food supplement" they are not regulated by the FDA and therefore don't undergo rigorous testing.
We cannot be sure that
you will reap the benefit that has been "promised"
the product actually contains the bacteria stated on the food label
the product contains enough bacteria to have an effect
the bacteria are able to survive long enough to reach your gut
So what can probiotics ACTUALLY do for you?
- The prevention of antibiotic induced diarrhoea
There's fairly good evidence that taking high doses of some probiotics (Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Saccharomyces boulardii) while taking antibiotics can help prevent children getting antibiotic induced diarrhoea.
- A reduced duration of infectious diarrhoea
They might shorten the duration of a tummy bug by approximately one day
- Protecting premature babies
Some premature babies are at risk of a life threatening condition called necrotising enterocolitits (NEC). This is when the gut becomes inflamed and begins to die. There is some evidence to say that probiotics can reduce the likelihood of a preemie developing this but there are still uncertainties.
- Helping IBS
Probiotics might help reduce symptoms of bloating and flatulence in people with IBS.
What can probiotic maybe do for you (but probably wont)
- Help with colic
There is insufficient evidence that probiotics can help manage colic effectively or prevent infants crying.
- Preventing or treating eczema
Some studies have suggested that giving probiotics to young children may reduce their risk of developing eczema, but the evidence isn't very strong and there is not enough evidence to support claims that probiotics can help treat symptoms of eczema.
Are probiotics safe?
Whether probiotics are likely to be safe for you depends on the state of your health.
In people who are generally healthy, probiotics have a good safety record. Side effects, if they occur at all, usually consist only of mild digestive symptoms such as gas.
On the other hand, there have been reports linking probiotics to severe side effects, such as dangerous infections, in people with serious underlying medical problems. The people who are most at risk of severe side effects include critically ill patients, those who have had surgery, very sick infants, and people with weakened immune systems
Which one do I buy?
Now this is a difficult question. There are so many different bugs, combinations of bugs and amounts of bugs to choose from! Don't assume that they offer the same benefits!
Lets take a look at a few common infant probiotic supplements that I found in my local Clicks...
So not all probiotics are equal! But as I said earlier...you cannot guarantee that these beneficial bugs are in there in numbers high enough to be beneficial or that they will even reach the gut.
If I do try them, how long before I will see the results.
It is recommended that probiotics are taken for at least 4 weeks before assessing their efficacy.