Dietary supplements, such as probiotics, may be beneficial for various health problems. Probiotics have become very popular as natural alternatives for treating digestive conditions. The pharmacy aisles are stocked with various brands of probiotics and supplements. It can be overwhelming to determine which, if any, supplements are right for you.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts that are beneficial to the host (the person consuming them). Probiotics are sometimes referred to as “good bacteria.” The bacteria found in probiotics are usually similar to those found naturally in your gut. Probiotics are in foods such as yogurt, soy beverages, and some juices. They can be present naturally in the food, or they may be added during production. Probiotics are also marketed as dietary supplements, in capsules, powders, and tablets.
What Are Probiotics Used For?
Our bodies are full of bacteria — on our skin and in our guts. Good bacteria are essential to our digestion and immune systems, and help to protect our bodies from bad bacteria.
Antibiotics not only kill the bacteria that is causing the infection, they can also kill our good bacteria. People will often use probiotics while taking antibiotics to replace the good bacteria — trying to avoid the diarrhea, cramping, and gas that antibiotics may cause.
Probiotics have also been studied for use in:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Clostridium difficile (an antibiotic-related diarrhea)
- Lactose intolerance
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Allergic conditions
There is encouraging evidence that probiotics may have benefits for various digestive conditions; however, more research needs to be done to determine their true benefits.
Do Probiotics Help GERD And Ulcers?
Although many Web sites tout the benefits of probiotics for GERD, there does not appear to be scientific evidence to back up these claims. However, some studies have shown the benefit of probiotics in infants with acid reflux.
H. pylori is a bacteria that causes ulcers. H. pylori is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics. Probiotics may decrease the side effects from this therapy. Probiotics are also being studied to determine if they can actually help treat H. pylori infections.
Other Natural Digestive Health Remedies
Ginger has been used for many years in the treatment of nausea, stomach aches, and diarrhea. Ginger helps to relieve nausea due to motion sickness and chemotherapy, along with post-surgical nausea. Ginger has been shown in short-term studies to relieve the nausea associated with pregnancy. When taken in small doses, ginger has few side effects. Some of the side effects that may occur include gas, nausea, bloating, and heartburn.
Calcium is known as a supplement that is used to help maintain strong bones. Did you know that calcium carbonate also neutralizes stomach acid? Because of its ability to do this, calcium carbonate is found in many over-the-counter antacids, including Tums and Rolaids. Antacids are used as needed to help relieve the symptoms of heartburn, acid indigestion, sour or upset stomach. Antacids may be used if you have breakthrough symptoms while taking a PPI.
Iron is vital to many functions of the body. Iron is an important component of proteins and enzymes and is also needed for the body to make red blood cells. When a person has low iron, they may become anemic, leading to weakness, fatigue, irritability, and headache. If this occurs, iron supplements may be recommended. Unfortunately iron supplements can cause digestive distress including nausea, vomiting, constipation, and abdominal distress. Some people may also have an increase in their reflux symptoms. Starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it or taking your iron supplements with meals may help avoid these digestive problems.
Dietary supplements may have beneficial effects on your body. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not determine if supplements are effective before they are marketed to the public. Also, remember dietary supplements may cause side effects. Just because something is labeled as all natural does not mean it is safe for you. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before adding any supplements to your medication regimen.