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The Benefits of Probiotics

Yesterday's New York Times featured an interesting story explaining the benefits of probiotics, the good bacteria in your gut that can boost your immune system, prevent allergic inflammation and food allergy, clear up eczema in children and heal the intestines from a variety of ailments.

In fact, about 3 pounds worth line your intestinal tract. This is an extremely complex living system that aggressively protects your body from disease.

Researchers here and abroad are looking at probiotics as a promising answer to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance and abuse. Various studies have shown they may even help lower cholesterol in the blood and, by degrading carcinogens, thwart the development of certain cancers.

The health potential of probiotics has been known for about 100 years, but their value has largely gone unrecognized by Western health professionals. But interest in probiotics has exploded in the last several years in the face of surging bacterial resistance to many potent drugs, consumers' demand for natural remedies and accumulating evidence that some probiotic organisms prevent or treat certain challenging medical conditions.

A number of studies also showed all the good probiotics can do.

  • For example, in a carefully designed study, researchers in Finland administered the probiotic Lactobacillus GG to pregnant women and to their babies who were considered at high risk for developing allergies for six months after birth. By the time the children were 2, the probiotic cut the incidence of eczema in half. The mode of action is believed to involve the ability of probiotics both to reduce the absorption of dietary allergens by enhancing intestinal development and to degrade allergens in the babies' digestive tracts.
  • Studies of two strains of probiotic Lactobacilli by Canadian researchers showed when the organisms were taken by mouth, they tended to impede the growth and establishment of various harmful bacteria known to cause intestinal, urinary tract and genital infections that could invade the womb.

The typical American diet is so full of sugar and grains that--although I don't often recommend supplements--nearly everyone can benefit from probiotics.

New York Times September 14, 2004

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