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Do Probiotics Really Work?

By Nicole Crawford ; Updated April 18, 2017

Probiotics are not necessary for human health, according to Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky. Nevertheless, they might possess many health benefits. Although research is limited, some studies suggest that probiotics may help prevent or treat a number of conditions and improve overall health and wellness. Probiotics are found in food sources as well as dietary supplements.

General Information

Probiotics are microorganisms that fight harmful bacteria and regulate immunity. According to American Family Physician, the most commonly studied probiotics are Lactobacillus sp., Bifidobacterium sp., and Saccharomyces boulardii. Most probiotics are sensitive to the acidic conditions found in the lower gastrointestinal tract, and therefore the need to be consumed regularly in order to colonize properly. Although dietary supplements containing probiotics are available, you can also obtain them from food sources like yogurt, miso and other fermented products.

Gastrointestinal Treatment

Probiotics are commonly used to treat a variety of gastrointestinal problems. They have been shown to be effective in the treatment of diarrhea. According to American Family Physician, probiotics may reduce the occurrence, duration and intensity of antibiotic-related diarrhea, as well as acute infectious diarrhea. They may also relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease, although research is a bit lacking in these areas and effectiveness varies widely from product to product.

Cold Relief and Prevention

Probiotics may also prevent and reduce the severity of the common cold. In a 2009 study published in "Pediatrics", the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that children ages 3 to 5 who received daily probiotic supplements missed fewer school days due to cold symptoms and required less medication than those who did not. Another study by Swedish researchers showed that adults who received probiotic supplements were sick less often and missed fewer work days due to respiratory illness or gastrointestinal problems that those who did not.

Atopic Dermatitis

Although probiotics are often promoted for their effectiveness in the prevention of atopic dermatitis, research is conflicted. In one study, infants who received probiotics during pregnancy and after birth were less likely to develop eczema than those who received a placebo. In other studies, children who already had established dermatitis experienced significant reductions in severity after treatment with probiotics. However, according to American Family Physician, research in this area has been inconsistent, and some strains of probiotics tend to be more effective than others.

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