What are the Pros and Cons of Probiotic Pills?

Elle Jay

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.

The effects of yogurt and probiotic pills on digestive health have not been definitively proven.
The effects of yogurt and probiotic pills on digestive health have not been definitively proven.

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.

Birth control pills can rob the vaginal canal of good bacteria.
Birth control pills can rob the vaginal canal of good bacteria.

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.

Probiotics are sometimes used to treat recurring urinary tract infections.
Probiotics are sometimes used to treat recurring urinary tract infections.

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.

Probiotics may help control intestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Probiotics may help control intestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

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.

Probiotic pills can help replenish the levels of good bacteria in the digestive tract.
Probiotic pills can help replenish the levels of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

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.

The function of the digestive system can be improved by taking probiotic pills.
The function of the digestive system can be improved by taking probiotic pills.

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.

Because of its active cultures -- such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus -- yogurt is considered a probiotic.
Because of its active cultures -- such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus -- yogurt is considered a probiotic.
Using probiotic drops appears to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria in the stomachs of infants and young children.
Using probiotic drops appears to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria in the stomachs of infants and young children.

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Discussion Comments

anon1000713

I'm a firm believer in probiotics. At 63 my doctor says I'm probably the healthiest patient he has. I make my own sauerkraut and consume it or another natural food probiotic every day. Pickles that are refrigerated are a good source. If not sauerkraut I eat a pickle and drink the juice daily, almost like one would take a vitamin. I can't recall the last illness I've had.

Spotiche5

@talentryto- I agree with your post, though I would like to add that probiotics do help control the symptoms of lactose intolerance. I have a friend that suffered from uncomfortable symptoms from eating milk products. Once she started taking probiotic pills, she was able to eat dairy with fewer problems.

Talentryto

I think that one of the biggest cons of taking probiotic pills is that many people expect to much from taking them. Though this type of supplement may help to calm your stomach and regulate your digestive system, it will not cure stomach problems or prevent them completely.

If you are are thinking about taking probiotic pills for digestive issues, it is important that you have stomach discomfort checked out first by your doctor. Once major problems are ruled out, you can ask him or her exactly what benefits and symptom relief you can expect from taking probiotics.

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