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Trend or Truth? Health Benefits of Probiotics

Dr. Simon Cofrancesco This fascinating and rapidly growing area in medicine is about the ingestion of live bacteria -billions of them! These beneficial microorganisms are called probiotics, from pro and biota meaning “for life”. Naturally found in foods fermented with bacteria, such as yogurt, the Europeans have been consuming them regularly for centuries; however, their popularity in the United States is just now on the rise. Is this just a health trend or a truly viable treatment?

What Are They – Really?

Probiotics are “live microorganisms administered in adequate amounts which confer a beneficial health effect on the host” – us being the host. Most probiotic products contain bacteria from the genera Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, although other genera, including Escherichia, Enterococcus, Bacillus and Saccharomyces aren’t uncommon.

How Do They Work?

Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract serves to bridge the gap between “inside the body” and “outside the body”. Like all living creatures, as humans we play host to a multitude of microbes inside and outside our bodies – over 1000 different species of bacteria. They can be found in our mouths, in women’s vaginal tracts, throughout our gastrointestinal tract, and even on our skin. There are trillions of bacteria that normally reside in our GI tract, like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. It is the important balance of good vs. bad bacteria that helps to regulate our health in many ways. Their life cycle produces organic acids (lactic and acetic acids) that tend to lower the pH of the intestinal contents, creating conditions less desirable for harmful bacteria. Basically, these good guys – the probiotics – keep the toxin producing bad guys in check, and regulate our immune system in a positive way.

What Are The Benefits?

These live bacteria are safe to ingest since they are not disease causing and normally reside in our bodies. Probiotics are most frequently being used to treat common GI diseases like Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Ulcerative colitis and the side effects of Antibiotic Therapy. Studies also report that certain probiotics may play a role in: reducing the development of allergies in children, reducing hypertension, lowering cholesterol, easing Lactose Intolerance, treating and preventing vaginal and urinary infections in women, decreasing the risk of certain cancers and keeping healthy people healthy. In more serious cases, like C-DIFF, probiotic therapy can work in conjunction with traditional antibiotics. Over the past two years I have witnessed favorable results using Probiotics in the treatment of my IBS patients, and I recommend this treatment very often. There are rare exceptions where probiotics can be harmful, like people with severe immune dysfunction or the critically ill, so please consult your physician prior to any new regimen.

Europeans have practiced it for centuries and initial studies show that probiotic therapy works for the masses. Which strain is most effective or method of ingestion is best? We’re not sure. Many questions like these remain unanswered and additional studies are needed, but there is great promise that probiotic treatment will continue to grow and provide hope for those suffering from GI illnesses and other ailments.

Dr. Simon Cofrancesco is a gastroenterologist and physician owner of GI North, P.C., a gastroenterology medical practice located in Cumming, Georgia. Dr. Cofrancesco and his staff are dedicated to excellence in patient care related to gastroenterology. We value the trust patients place in us, and we work hard every day to earn & retain that trust. Dr. Cofrancesco is affiliated with Northside Hospital-Forsyth and performs procedures at the hospital. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Cofrancesco, please call 404-446-0600 or visit our website, here.

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