Probiotics. A popular word for sure right now. Looking around in the grocery store it seems like the healthy bacteria are being added to everything from yogurt to cottage cheese to coffee. (Kidding about that last one. Although given how much I love coffee, I’m not opposed to the idea.)
Probiotics by definition
Probiotic: A microbe that protects its host and prevents disease.
Probiotics are found naturally in the gut (stomach/intestines.) With antibiotic use, and sometimes with dysfunction of the gut (such as celiac disease) the balance of this “good bacteria” can be disrupted, and cause intestinal distress such as diarrhea. These little suckers can be a bit fragile, and not all of them can be ingested orally (eaten/swallowed) and survive into the digestive tract.
There are many different strains of probiotics. If you think about antibiotics, there are lots of different prescriptions that we have seen or heard of over the years, right? Similarly, there are a number of different probiotics. Thousands, in fact.
However, there are only a handful of these thousand that have been researched upon and shown to be effective. Within the handful of effective ones, they may only be effective for certain conditions. So just ingesting a product with “probiotics” doesn’t necessarily give you any benefit. It depends on why you are taking them, and the strain of bacteria that is in the product. Unfortunately, the labeling for these products is often unclear.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is a common probiotic. According to MayoClinic.com:
Lactobacillus acidophilus is generally considered to be beneficial because it produces vitamin K, lactase, and anti-microbial substances such as acidolin, acidolphilin, lactocidin, and bacteriocin. Multiple human trials report benefits of L. acidophilus for bacterial vaginosis. Other medicinal uses of L. acidophilus are not sufficiently studied to form clear conclusions.
It’s normally found in yogurt, and in lactose reduced milk. (Lactaid brand ’round these parts.)
Another probiotic group known as Bifidobacteria (one of these strains is the one in the Activia yogurt-long live Jamie Curtis and her healthy bowels.) One of the methods of action is to slow the transit time of material through the intestines-again, reducing diarrhea.
The strain in Activia was produced specifically by Dannon and is known as Bifidus Regularis. As an aside, Dannon settled a class action lawsuit late in 2009 and has since altered the label claims.
Another strain of Bifidobacterium is bifidus infantis. This is the probiotic found in the product Align. Align is gluten free.
The Bifidobacterium probiotic strain appears to have real promise for those with intestinal disorders, including celiac disease and IBS.
Bifidobacterium appears to reduce the permeability of the intestinal walls in response to gliadin. This is especially of interest to those of us with celiac disease as the probiotic can help reduce gliadin’s (protein in gluten) damage to the intestines.
Recommendations were made at the Yale University Workshop in 2008 by a panel of 12 regarding the use of probiotics. Unfortunately, this paper is not available for free access (like so many I want to see,) but a summary from the NY Times stated:
A panel of 12 experts concluded that there was strong evidence that several probiotic strains could reduce diarrhea, including that associated with antibiotic use. Several studies have also suggested that certain probiotics may be useful for irritable bowel syndrome, with the strongest recommendation for Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, the probiotic in the Procter & Gamble supplement Align. (Two members of the panel had ties to Procter & Gamble; three others had ties to other companies that sell probiotics.)
Important to note that there is financial benefit there. That doesn’t mean their opinion should be discounted, it’s just something to be aware of.
Of course, if you have any questions, please contact your physician before starting probiotic use. They are GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA, but individuals with immunodeficiency or active bowel infection are not recommended to use probiotics.
Align was kind enough to send me samples to try, and a month’s supply for one lucky reader! I used Align for a month, and can say I did not notice a difference. However, I am not a fair subject as I was already taking another brand of probiotic. Align also offers a money back guarantee if you are dissatisfied after trying it. That’s pretty impressive.
Align can be found pretty much anywhere-I saw it at Target and Publix.
If you’d like to win a free month supply of Align, leave a comment below and tell me what your biggest obstacle is to eating healthfully (if you have one), and/or your experience with probiotics. Winner will be randomly selected.
You can get another chance in the virtual hat if you re-tweet this post for my Twitter buddies.