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DrSugar Answers: Probiotics?

DrSugar is in the house and answering your questions.

Hey DrSugar,
Lately I've started seeing various dairy products boast of their products' probiotic content, and they say that two weeks of eating their product daily will fix irregularity. What happens after those two weeks? Are you "cured," or do they expect you to continue consuming probiotics daily to stay regular? Is it possible for your GI system to become "dependent" on these probiotics?
— Pro Probiotic?

This is a great question, since probiotic foods and supplements seem to be everywhere. To see what DrSugar has to say on the subject just


Probiotics are living organisms commonly found in dairy products and other foods that can provide potential health benefits. Basically, they are “good bacteria.” Probiotics have been marketed for the treatment of many ailments including diarrhea, constipation, gas, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more generally inflammation. Some of these claims are supported by high quality scientific evidence and some are not. One study looked at irritable bowel syndrome symptoms over the course of one month in patients treated with probiotics versus placebo. The results showed a remarkable reduction in symptoms in the probiotic group of 42.6 percent. However, the catch was that the placebo group had an equally impressive reduction in symptoms of 42.3 percent. Placebo effect or not, 42 percent is a very impressive statistic so it is probably worth a shot if you’re suffering from irregularity.

Getting to your specific question, there is no evidence to support a long term benefit from probiotics. The stool levels of the probiotics have actually been shown to decrease within a few days after not taking the supplement. Probiotics live harmoniously with the naturally occurring gut flora but do not replace that flora permanently. So you will not be cured and will need to continue to consume probiotics to maintain the desired benefit. Probiotics are different than other medications that treat diarrhea and constipation and have not been shown to cause dependence. One of the great things about probiotics is that there are almost no negative side effects or contraindications. The only exception is if you have severe immunodeficiency from a serious underlying disease; a probiotic supplement could overstimulate the immune system creating more harm than good. More information can be found at the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine.

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DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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