Many people have seen the somewhat embarrassing yogurt commercials about regulating the digestive system and improving those pesky little irregularities. Those commercials are talking about the benefits of probiotics, which include treating intestinal woes and boosting the digestive system. What the commercials don’t say is that probiotics, including probiotic pills and supplements, have not been not scientifically proved to have the positive effects that marketers claim. In addition, probiotic pills are largely unregulated, so the consistency of their quality and of any benefits one might receive from them cannot be ensured.
Probiotics are healthy, good bacteria that occur naturally in the human body. Sometimes unhealthy, bad bacteria negatively affect the good bacteria, leading to illness. Probiotic pills and other sources of probiotics, including yogurt, can replenish the good bacteria in the digestive tract, treat some intestinal diseases and help boost the immune system.
Perhaps the best-known benefit derived from probiotic research thus far is in the treatment of diarrhea in children and infants. Studies have revealed that probiotics shortened the length of symptoms from infectious diarrhea by as much as 60 percent. Probiotics helped young people with diarrhea, but the treatment was not proved to be effective in adults.
Although probiotics are easily available, their effectiveness can vary between products. Probiotic pills are considered supplements rather than medicine, so production is largely unregulated, which can lead to inconsistencies. Specific probiotic strains treat specific illnesses, but the required strain might not be present in every available probiotic supplement.
Claims exist about the ability of probiotics to control intestinal problems such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but research is lacking in this area. A few small studies have shown that probiotics can reduce flare-ups from Crohn’s, but the particular strains and how they should be used for the best results were uncertain. Probiotic pills are readily obtained, so many people who suffer the discomforts of intestinal issues take probiotic supplements regardless of their proven effectiveness.
Sources of probiotics, including pills and yogurt, are sometimes used to treat recurring yeast infections as well as urinary tract infections and vaginal infections. The vaginal canal can be robbed of good bacteria by birth control pills, spermicidal creams or antibiotics. Replenishing the healthy bacteria with probiotics can balance the internal environment and treat or prevent infections. Although studies have not proved that probiotics definitively improve levels of good bacteria, the practice of using yogurt to treat yeast infections is common.
Some claims surrounding the benefits of using probiotics involve preventing allergies in children and fighting cancer. As of 2010, scientific research had not confirmed those claims, but some consumers have been drawn to probiotics because of advertising and hype. This could lead to the improper and unnecessary use of probiotic pills by some people.