How Probiotics Can Improve Gut Health

How Probiotics Can Improve Gut Health

  • Tricia Smith, Research Assistant, Medical Management, OSU Health Plan
  • July, 2019
  • Health & Wellness
Learn how these living microorganisms can treat certain gastrointestinal conditions.

What is my gut flora? Why is it important?

Gut flora is the bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside your intestines. Gut flora is also called gut microbiome, microflora, and intestinal flora. These organisms and you have a mutually beneficial relationship. You provide them a home and nutrients, and they provide many important services that are vital to your well-being.

Some of the functions of your intestinal flora include:

  • Helping you digest and absorb food (especially food that people cannot digest)
  • Making essential vitamins
  • Removing toxic compounds
  • Outcompeting pathogens and thereby preventing infections
  • Helping to stimulate and regulate your immune system
  • Emerging research demonstrates associations between gut flora and many diseases like asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and more….

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that by definition give the host (you) a benefit. Probiotics include more than just bacteria; some of the other commonly studied species are yeast which are fungi. Probiotics include microorganisms that are similar to your normal, healthy gut flora. Different products can include either a single species or a mix of several different species or strains. It is important to research or ask your healthcare provider if you are unsure what species or what type of probiotic to use. The most studied and used probiotics are from the genera Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces.

Are probiotics safe?

Probiotics are considered generally safe for healthy children and adults, but they are not recommended for everyone. You should not take probiotics if:

  • You are taking an immunosuppressant drug
  • You have recently had surgery or a transplant
  • You have cancer, HIV/AIDS, or any condition that compromises your immune system
  • You are very ill

What role do probiotics play in health and medicine?

Probiotics can help stimulate and regulate the immune system and can be an effective treatment for certain gastrointestinal conditions. Some uses of probiotics include:

  • To significantly reduce diarrhea in cases of acute infectious diarrhea cause by bacteria
  • To prevent and treat antibiotic associate diarrhea
  • To prevent diarrhea associated with C. difficile
  • To treat constipation in children and adults
  • To treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • To treat other functional gastrointestinal disorders

Diarrhea treatment and prevention is especially important as it can help prevent dehydration and the serious consequences that can come from it. Probiotics are more than just a treatment or prevention of specific conditions: they can also be taken to help you maintain a healthy ecosystem in your gut. Having a healthy gut flora can improve your well-being and help prevent intestinal infections.

 

References

Heintz-Buschart, A., & Wilmes, P. (2018). Human gut microbiome: function matters. Trends in microbiology26(7), 563-574.

Sanders, M. E. (2015). Probiotics in 2015: their scope and use. Journal of clinical gastroenterology49, S2-S6.

Toscano, M., De Grandi, R., Pastorelli, L., Vecchi, M., & Drago, L. (2017). A consumer’s guide for probiotics: 10 golden rules for a correct use. Digestive and Liver Disease49(11), 1177-1184.

Wilkins, T., & Sequoia, J. (2017). Probiotics for gastrointestinal conditions: a summary of the evidence. American family physician96(3), 170-178.

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