Probiotics are products containing live microorganisms which when taken by mouth are said to provide health benefits. In contrast to antibiotics which kill microbes, Probiotics are considered to be pro life and benefit the consumer by improving intestinal microbial balance.
Consumed in foods such as yogurt, Probiotic fortified foods and dietary supplements, the two most common microorganisms contained in these products are lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
Brands may contain live Probiotic cultures of single strains such as Yacult which has lactobacillus casei, double strains such as Acidophilus Pearls which has lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium longum or multiple strains such as in Flora Smart.
Research into the potential health benefits of Probiotics has taken a number of twists and turns over the last one hundred years. There have been many claims and suggested benefits. Many isolated research studies remain unsubstantiated. Further research is awaited on many diverse health benefits such as on the immune system and even on prevention of colon cancer. Where potential benefit does appear more consistent is in the management of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, treating yeast infections and in the restoration of intestinal health associated with antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
The consumption of these products on a regular basis is considered safe in most people although it may not be wise to give them to people who are immunocompromised or who are very ill. Research has indicated some potentially adverse effects in these groups of patients.
There is no good evidence resulting from rigorous scientific research that Probiotics can help in the management of diabetes. There may be many claims and proposals in this area but until well designed randomized clinical trials come up with the evidence it would be difficult to counter one of the main criticisms of the Probiotics industry, that is of cost and value for money.