Do probiotics work? Although scientists have understood the potential health benefits of probiotics for several decades, dedicated clinical research posing the question, “Do probiotics work?” is a relatively recent development. If you want the short answer to this question, it is that they do! But for the more detailed and balanced answer, read on.
What Do Probiotics Do?
Before we look at support for the effectiveness of probiotics, we need a better understanding of what scientists believe probiotics are doing inside the body. Then we can answer do probiotics work. Probiotics, according to the World Health Organization, are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”
The human digestive system contains trillions of microorganisms, but not all of them are beneficial. If you have too many harmful bacteria in your body, they can act on normal proteins, fats and carbohydrates and convert them into toxins, called carcinogens, which can cause all kinds of health problems. In a healthy system, however, the beneficial and neutral bacteria significantly outnumber the harmful. Probiotics can work to repopulate your digestive system with good bacteria, which crowd out much of the bad bacteria, fight off pathogens and toxins and strengthen your immune system. In fact, about 80% of the human immune system is located in the digestive tract, so the right balance of microorganisms there can be critical to good health.
While there are a number of things that can reduce the good bacteria, and allow the harmful bacteria to flourish, daily probiotic supplements can replenish good bacteria and restore the digestive system to a healthy balance.
What Scientific Research Is Saying About the Benefits of Probiotics
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve a health claim for probiotics, recent studies have drawn promising conclusions regarding probiotics ability to aid health in several areas.
Scientists have understood for decades that probiotics provide numerous benefits. Among other benefits, research suggests that probiotics can:
- Aid digestion
- Reduce the negative side effects associated with antibiotics
- Reduce the risk of certain acute common infectious diseases
- Treat gastrointestinal illness
- Improve lactose tolerance
- Enhance overall immunity
Prevent or slow the development of certain cancers
Key Studies Show Probiotics Working
Do probiotics work? The best way to answer this question is by reviewing the research.
- Some of the strongest evidence for the benefits of probiotics comes from the gastrointestinal field. One study showed that probiotics reduced the risk of developing diarrhea associated with antibiotics by 52%.1 The study also concluded that the use of probiotics cut the risk and duration of infectious diarrhea too.
- One study of daycare children showed the use of a specific probioitic produced a marked reduction in stay-at-home sick days and the number of infections requiring antibiotics.2
- In a study of women with bacterial vaginosi, metronidazole therapy that included probiotics was significantly more effective than therapy that employed metronidazole only.3
- Another study made a strong case that probiotics can reduce atopic eczema (a skin condition that often afflicts infants).1
Other important studies showed the use of probiotics relieved gut pain and discomfort, reduced gas, and reduced the risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea, respectively.
The Final Word on the Effectiveness of Probiotics
While there is much work to be done in probiotics research, the bulk of scientific evidence to-date has indicated that there are numerous health benefits to be gained from ingesting the right types and balance of probiotics. As with any change in the maintenance of your personal health, consult your physician when introducing probiotics into your routine, and never seek without professional guidance to replace a prescribed therapy with a probiotics regimen. In specific cases of severe illness or weakened immunity, the use of probiotics can sometimes produce harmful effects. When in doubt, talk to your physician.
If you’re asking the question, “Do probiotics work?” a preponderance of evidence is already in. They can and do.
1Kligler, Benjamin and Andreas Cohrssen. “Probiotics.” American Family Physician. Nov. 1, 2008.
2Hatakka K, Savilahti E, Ponka A, et al. “Effect of long term consumption of probiotic milk on infections in children attending day care centres: double blind, randomised trial.” BMJ. 2001.
3Thulkar J, Kriplani A, Agarwal N. “Probiotic and metronidazole treatment for recurrent bacterial vaginosis.” International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics. Nov. 23, 2009.