Keeping Your Colon Happy
Probiotics are essential for optimal colon health. A disruption of the balance between helpful and harmful bacteria in the gut can lead to functional problems over time. Evidence suggests that oral supplements may help reverse some digestive disorders and significantly reduce uncomfortable symptoms.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms in the forms of bacteria and yeast that colonize the colon and have a physiological effect on human health. Certain foods, like kimchee, yogurt, and fermented milk, contain probiotics naturally. Over-the-counter supplements are another way to get probiotics into the diet. In the gastrointestinal tract, probiotics feed on short-chain sugar molecules called prebiotics. The metabolic byproducts of the relationship between probiotics and prebiotics can affect the environment of the colon in several ways.
Mechanisms of action
One way probiotics work is by decreasing the growth of unfriendly bacteria in the colon. Probiotics are also responsible for B complex and vitamin K synthesis. Other mechanisms include maintenance of a healthy pH, neutralization of metabolic toxins, and strengthening of the gut barrier to keep harmful bacteria out of the bloodstream. Probiotics also enhance the immune system by activating anti-inflammatory mechanisms responsible for the release of immune cells. Some studies have suggested a link between probiotics and weight management, but more research is needed before scientists can draw any definitive conclusions.
Probiotics and IBS
The current body of evidence suggests that people who have a healthy and well-balanced colon environment won’t see much of a benefit from probiotic supplements. However, there is strong evidence that taking probiotics can help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in stool habits. Several meta-analyses, including a review that looked at 35 studies, showed probiotics are effective for symptom management of IBS.
Should you take a supplement?
The most crucial factor to consider when choosing a supplement is ensuring the product contains live microorganisms. Probiotic dietary supplements are measured using colony-forming units (CFU). Buyer beware of products that list CFUs at the time of manufacture because the microorganisms are not guaranteed to survive to the purchase date. Patients with IBS should consult with a gastroenterologist or registered dietitian before beginning any over-the-counter supplement regimen. Specialized medical professionals will know which strains, doses, and treatment courses are most appropriate based on the available research. For more information, speak with a pharmacist about probiotic options.