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Can You Make Your Gut Healthier with Probiotics?

0 6 months ago

To restore the intestinal balance they are sure they do not have, some people turn to probiotics.

But what exactly are probiotics? Do they work? How do you know if you need one? We posed these questions and more to Columbia gastroenterologist Daniel Freedberg, MD, who studies probiotics and their effectiveness.


What are probiotics?

Probiotics are “good” bacteria taken in the hope of improving health.

Should you take probiotics? - Harvard Health

What do probiotics do?

Probiotics change the bacteria that live in the gut, called the gut microbiome. The hope is that probiotics lead to more beneficial bacteria and fewer harmful ones in the gut and better digestive or overall health.


Why does everyone think they need a probiotic?

We surveyed over 500 people who were coming in for a routine colonoscopy and asked them about probiotics. About one-quarter of them had used probiotics recently. Of these, 45% said that they take probiotics to improve overall health and longevity. An overlapping 45% thought that probiotics improve gut health specifically.


Does the microbiome affect health?

The microorganisms in the human gut contribute to nutrition and protect us against illness and disease. A healthy gut has a balanced mix of different bacterial species which promotes immunity.

Compared to healthy volunteers, differences in the gut microbiota are found in people with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis); irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); gut infections, such as Clostridioides difficile infection; diabetes; metabolic syndrome; multiple sclerosis; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; urinary tract infections; and psychiatric disorders, such as depression.

Though these problems have been associated with an altered gut microbiota, we don’t really know whether a “bad” gut microbiota causes them. For many conditions, the “bad” microbiota seems more likely to be a consequence rather than a cause of the condition.

We also know that microbiomes vary widely in healthy people. In the Human Microbiota Project, stool samples from thousands of healthy people (those without abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, or other known gut problems) were examined. There was a wide range of gut bacteria, meaning that two people could have totally different gut bacteria yet both people are perfectly healthy.

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