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Ask Dr. Sears: Probiotics
Q. What are your thoughts on probiotics, where live cultures of bacteria are used to replenish the good bacteria that might have been wiped out after taking too many antibiotics? How does this work? Does it help?
A. Probiotics are medically defined as organisms in fermented foods that promote good health and establish the right balance of intestinal bacteria. Billions of bacteria reside in healthy intestines where they contribute to the health of the colon. Probiotic supplements are just these same bacteria packaged as supplements in powder or in capsule form.
Do probiotics help? Well, when I teach parents and older children about intestinal health, one of my lessons is “Put the right bugs in your bowels.” It’s a symbiotic relationship—these bugs reside in the warm environment of the colon and in return they do the following good things for the body:
The resident probiotic bacteria fight any harmful germs that may enter the intestines. Probiotics are now being used in nearly all intestinal inflammatory illnesses.
Help antibiotic-induced diarrhea
I always prescribe probiotics to be used during, and for at least two weeks after, antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics kill the bad germs that can cause infections throughout the body, but they also can kill the beneficial bacteria in the bowels. Probiotics replenish the healthful bacteria that may have been killed by the antibiotics and restore the balance between healthful and harmful bacteria in the bowels.
Produce good fats
These healthful bacteria ferment the soluble fiber in food, producing healthful short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells of the large intestine, thereby promoting healing of infected intestinal lining. These protective fatty acids are also thought to reduce the development of intestinal cancer and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and they travel to the liver where they can decrease the liver’s production of excess cholesterol.
You may already have probiotics in your diet if you eat yogurt. Many yogurts contain the probiotics acidophilus, bifidus, and bulgaricus. When buying yogurt, be sure the label says “live and active cultures.” This is the official statement of the National Yogurt Association signifying that healthful probiotic bacteria have been added after pasteurization. Avoid yogurts that do not carry this label. If you are looking for a supplement, the probiotic that I personally prescribe in my pediatric practice is Culturelle, which is lactobacillus GG, the probiotic that has been used in many scientific studies.