Your Health: Can Probiotics Hurt You?
Published October 24th, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Introducing billions of bacteria into your digestive system may not sound like the healthiest thing to do, but probiotics are being hailed by some as one of the best things you can do to feel better.
They are a relatively new health trend, and with every new product can come some unintended consequences. In some cases, the so-called good bacteria may not be solving your digestive woes.
Researchers point to the fact that probiotics are relatively new on the health scene as they say with more research comes more information about why probiotics may not be the healthiest choice for everyone.
Probiotics - bacteria considered good for your gut - are becoming increasingly popular among americans working towards health from the inside-out.
They can occur naturally in dairy cultures, or come isolated in capsules and supplements, and promise to do everything from maintain your mood to balance your digestive system.
Amanda Trotter of Gainesville began taking them hoping to improve digestion. But not without some advice from her chiropractor and other friends in the medical field.
"There's a lot of TV commercials out about all kinds of things, and you never 100 percent trust them," Trotter says, "because you wonder about the science behind it and the studies that have been done and how true they are."
The science behind probiotics is relatively new.
"Evidence that it's helping health we've heard from many people," says UF Health Immuno/microbiologist Dr. Christian Jobin, "but a well-controlled clinical trial is lacking."
It's that lack of any long term study that has researchers like Jobin raising a red flag.
While it's generally accepted to say probiotics can be a helpful part of a healthy digestive system, they might cause some unintended consequences in certain scenarios.
Jobin and several other researchers looked at probiotics' effect on colitis-associtated colorectal cancer.
The preclinical study published in Scientific Reports found that the introduction of probiotics greatly altered the gut's microbiome and was believed to contribute to tumor growth. It's an example of how new scenarios are still being explored in which these supplements may not be so healthy.
"We do need a long term assessment of how the microbiome changes and is it really maintaining health status," Jobin says.
Along with unintended health consequences, there are other concerns about probiotics. Those found as a dieatary supplement are not regualted by the FDA, and therefore not subject to the same stringent regulations as medication.
Jobin says, as with any health supplement, consumers should discuss with their doctor if it's a good idea to begin taking probiotics, and what brands are safe.
"Choose a product that has high quality control associated with it and that you disclose it to your physician," he says.
It may not be the secret to preventing illness, but if you're looking to improve how you feel, it's worth a shot after you talk with a doctor.
Trotter agrees, saying it's just one piece of her health lifestyle.
"It's like incorporating a piece of fruit into your diet," she says, "is it going to change everything? no, but it will help."
The probiotics found in foods like yogurt are controlled by the FDA, Jobin says it may be safer to try adding those to your diet before beginning a supplement.
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