Viewpoint: Probiotic Supplements Ease Diarrhea and Other Gastrointestinal Disorders

Charlotte A. Kenreigh, PharmD; Linda Timm Wagner, PharmD


April 17, 2006

This viewpoint offers commentary on important clinical research in the area of pharmacy.

Thomsen M
Altern Complement Ther. 2006;12:14-20.

Probiotics are microorganisms found naturally in foods that stimulate the growth of beneficial organisms within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Recently, they have received increased attention in the news media. In healthy individuals, the GI tract houses more than 400 species of bacteria that are responsible for keeping harmful bacteria in check and keeping the GI tract healthy. Under certain circumstances, the balance of the bacteria within the GI tract is upset and there may be a reduction in the amount of beneficial GI bacteria. Antibiotic use, chronic diarrhea, and constipation have all been linked to this imbalance.

Early studies of antibiotic-induced diarrhea suggested that yogurt (live and active cultures) containing probiotics could help prevent and/or reduce symptoms by changing the bacterial environment of the GI tract. More recently, probiotic dietary supplements intended to promote the health of the GI tract have been introduced to the market.

Thomsen reviews the background on the use of probiotics and healthy gut flora. He offers a concise review of the available data regarding the use of probiotics in several conditions: intestinal dysbiosis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, pouchitis, diarrhea (antibiotic-induced, travelers', acute, or infantile diarrhea), constipation, Helicobacter pylori infection, food allergies, eczema, immune modulation, hypercholesterolemia, and urogenital infections.

The author concludes that the results of clinical studies support the use of probiotics for infective, antibiotic-induced, and travelers' diarrhea; vaginal thrush and recurrent cystitis; irritable bowel syndrome; colitis; food allergies; and lactose malabsorption. Probiotics may also be useful for the prevention of pouchitis, postoperative infections, and eczema. The author does warn that probiotics should be avoided in patients who are sensitive to any component of a probiotic formulation. Additionally, he acknowledges that the labeling of many probiotic products is substandard.

Consumers are frequently receiving messages through the media promoting the use of probiotics for the maintenance of GI health. This article offers important insight into the potential uses for these products. In general, probiotics are considered safe and have not been shown to interact negatively with prescription medications. However, as with any dietary supplement or natural product, the manufacture of these products may not be standardized and the purity of products cannot be guaranteed. The products can vary significantly in nature and cost.


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