Probiotics benefits and risks

Products containing probiotics, such as supplements, yogurt, and drinks, are in widespread use today, but health experts are still studying just how effective they are in conveying health benefits.  Dr. Carol Wolin-Riklin, registered dietitian with McGovern Medical School at UT Health, says there are things to be aware of.

“Probiotics are the good beneficial bacteria, the microorganisms, either from bacteria or yeast,” she explains.  “Recently there’s been a lot of attention focused on probiotics, whether it’s with weight loss or just good gastrointestinal function.”

“As with any supplement, they are not regulated by the [Food and Drug Administration],” she points out.  “There are guidelines.  So the FDA does not have to approve it when the probiotic is marketed.”

Dr. Wolin-Riklin says the effectiveness of probiotics differs by brand.  “The beneficial probiotics are live strains,” she points out.  “But when they package it, and by the time you purchase it, how live it is is questionable.  Some brands are better than others.”  Some require refrigeration to prolong their usefulness.

“Probiotic use has increased a lot faster than human studies have,” Dr. Wolin-Riklin says.  “There’s still a tremendous amount of information that we need to properly evaluate and interpret [concerning] how these probiotics affect the microbiomes in our body and the role they play.”

She adds a couple of cautions.  Taking too many probiotics too soon could lead to bloating and cramping.  In addition, live bacteria could lead to infections in immunocompromised patients. 

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