You must be familiar with the term probiotics – “good or beneficial” bacteria and/or yeast that help maintain the overall health and wellbeing of the gut. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “living microorganisms that confer health benefits on the host when taken in sufficient quantities.”
Whenever there’s an infection, the number of “bad” bacteria within your system rises; probiotics help increase the number of good bacteria, thus helping eliminate bad ones and restoring the required balance.
Probiotics are available in the form of fermented products, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut; certain foods, such as kimchi, miso, and pickles; and supplements.
The Stats on Probiotics
A 2012 National Health Interview Survey revealed that as many as 4 million U.S. adults – that’s 1.6 percent – had used some form of probiotics in the last 30 days, and that they were the third most frequently used dietary supplement among adults, apart from vitamins and minerals. More surprisingly, the survey also revealed that usage of probiotics by adults increased 4x between 2007 and 2012, and as many as 300,000 children between the ages of four and 17 had used probiotics in the 30 days prior to the survey.
As per a recent report published by Reports and Data, the worldwide probiotics market stood at USD 47.1 billion in 2018, and is estimated to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8% from 2019 to 2026.
Probiotics – Is there a Dark Side?
As is obvious, probiotics are swiftly gaining popularity. They have shown a great deal of promise in terms of preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea, necrotizing enterocolitis (death of a portion of the digestive tract), and sepsis in premature infants, treating infant colic, and also in the maintenance and suppression of inflammatory bowel diseases.
However, in most cases, we still aren’t sure which probiotics are beneficial and which are not. Moreover, we don’t know the exact amount of probiotics needed to benefit our system.
In light of this dilemma, let’s look at some of the basic things most people don’t know about the use and safety of probiotics.
What Most People Get Wrong about Probiotics
Despite having a general history of seemingly safe use, particularly among healthy individuals, a few studies have examined the safety of their use in general. Surprisingly, the results lack conclusive information concerning the frequency and severity of the side effects caused by probiotics.
However, research has revealed a few key things – the risk of experiencing adverse effects from using probiotics is greater for people suffering from severe illnesses, or those who have weakened immune systems. Hence, when probiotics are prescribed for premature infants or extremely ill patients, the potential risks must be carefully weighed against the expected benefits.
Despite being natural organisms, probiotics can also trigger allergic reactions. These include mild stomach disturbances, especially during the first few days of taking them, such as flatulence, diarrhoea, or bloating. These symptoms mostly subside after the body gets used to them.
The random use of probiotics can also result in infections and the production of certain substances by the probiotic microorganisms that can be potentially harmful to the body, especially the gut.
Moreover, certain probiotic products have been found to contain microorganisms apart from those listed on their labels. This poses a serious health risk, since this “contamination” can result in adverse reactions that could also be lethal.
Probiotic Supplements – Yay or Nay?
The addition of a probiotic supplement to your diet is considered a good initial step toward maintaining a healthy gut. However, that’s not always the case, and, based on the source, consuming probiotic supplements might even be dangerous.
Most probiotics sold in the U.S. are labeled as “dietary supplements.” This allows manufacturers to not have to test their products to guarantee their safety and efficacy.
Moreover, most commercial brands don’t have the technology to identify the specific strains that are beneficial as a supplement, along with their exact dosages. This means that you could be consuming an ineffective or potentially harmful product.
More Things to Watch Out for
- Here are some more pointers if you’re planning to use a probiotic supplement:
- Don’t take probiotics as an excuse or alternative to delay seeing your physician about any potential health problems.
- If you’re considering taking a probiotic supplement, consult your physician first, especially if you suffer from health problems related to the gut or immune system. Working together, you can make well-informed decisions.
- Those with serious underlying health conditions must be strictly monitored while taking probiotics.
Consuming gut-friendly probiotics has its benefits, but choosing the right strains based on your specific needs and health status is the best method to ensure safety and efficacy. With a little research, and some guidance from your primary healthcare provider or gastroenterologist, you can narrow which strain and product is best for you.