The Power of Probiotics

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You’ve probably seen it before: the TV commercial showing actress Jamie Lee Curtis enjoying Activia yogurt in beautiful settings across the globe. In the ad, Curtis remarks that she eats this yogurt daily for “digestive health”. Yogurt, like some other dairy foods, is a probiotic or healthy bacteria, shown to have benefits on the digestive and immune systems. Interested? Here’s what women with PCOS should know about taking probiotics.

What Are Probiotics?

According to the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, probiotics are live microorganisms (microbes), which, when administered in adequate amounts, offer a health benefit on the host.

Our bodies naturally contain trillions of different microbes-over 100 trillion bacteria in our intestines alone. Some of these microorganisms are good and some not-so-good. Examples of microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, and yeast. Everyone has their own unique concentrations of microorganisms. Most probiotics are bacteria similar to those in our bodies. Friendly bacteria are important for proper maintenance of our immune system, for the digestion and absorption of food and protect us against bad bacteria that can cause disease. Antibiotic use is widely associated with harming healthy bacteria. Probiotics assist the body’s friendly bacteria to make it even more powerful.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Probiotics?

Some of the claims for which research supports a beneficial effect of probiotic consumption include:

  • Enhancing intestinal tract health

  • Reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance

  • Reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

  • Stimulating the immune system

  • Synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients

  • Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea

  • Reducing severity of acute diarrhea in children

  • Decreasing the prevalence of eczema

  • Reducing risk of colon cancer

Food sources of probiotics

While yogurt and other dairy foods are among the most popular probiotics, there are other foods available -and many more on their way. You can always buy probiotics in a supplement form as well (capsules and powders). Here’s a list of some probiotic-containing foods:

  • Yogurt (refrigerated or frozen)

  • Fermented and unfermented milk

  • Miso

  • Kimchi

  • Sauerkraut

  • Tempeh

  • Soy beverages

  • Some juices

  • Various granola bars and cereals

Efficacy And Safety Of Probiotics

The FDA identifies probiotics to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Not all probiotics are created equal. The dose needed for probiotics varies greatly depending on the product and strain. Most probiotics can be taken with minimal side effects.

According to a 2001 paper on probiotics published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, there are currently no national standards of identity for levels of bacteria required in yogurt or other fermented products. Concentration of bacteria contained in food products is generally left up to the manufacturer. The “Live active culture” seal established by the National Yogurt Association requires 108 colony-forming units (cfu) viable lactic acid bacteria per gram at the time of manufacture for refrigerated yogurt and 107 per gram for frozen yogurts. It has been shown that a daily dose of about 109-1010 (1-10 billion cfu/dose) bacteria is needed for any measurable effect in regards to lactose intolerance, diarrhea and colon cancer.

Bottom line
Probiotics do offer some health benefits. If you want to improve your digestive health, boost your immune system or for treating any of the proven health claims mentioned earlier, you may want to consider probiotics. When selecting a type of probiotics, it’s important to pick a product that contains the same strain that was used in clinical studies. For best results, take therapeutic levels of probiotics daily and change up your probiotic to take in different strands of bacteria.

Researchers are just beginning to understand the potential of probiotics. Much more scientific knowledge is needed about probiotics including safety and appropriate dosage and how they can best benefit women with PCOS.

For more information on probiotics visit:
Get the facts: An introduction to probiotics. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
A Danone company-one of the leading research organizations in the field of probiotics.
ISAP: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics Webcast:
Probiotics: Applications in Gastrointestinal Health & Disease Presented in conjunction with the American College of Gastroenterology’s 72nd Annual Scientific Meeting, Autumn 2007)
The FAO food safety and quality site for probiotics.

Probiotics and prebiotics. World Gastroenterology Organisation Practice Guidelines. May 2008.
Get the facts: An introduction to probiotics. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Kopp-Hoolihan, L. Prophylactic and Therapeutic Uses of Probiotics:A review. J Am Diet Assoc. 2001;101:229-238, 241.

Sanders ME, Walker DC, Walker KM, et al. Performance of commercial cultures in fluid milk applications. J Dairy Science. 1996;79:943-955.

Let us know! What has been your experience with probiotics?

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