Bacteria are not all bad. Too often we relate bacteria to germs and harmful microorganisms that cause disease. The truth is the human body is made up of billions of bacteria, without many of which we would not survive. The term "probiotics" relates to foods and nutritional supplements that contain these same "good" bacteria found in the body.
It is normally not necessary to supplement with probiotics to stay healthy. Most of us have enough of the friendly bacteria to do fine. However for individuals suffering from digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Irregularity, probiotics can be a blessing, and a natural alternative to more aggressive treatments such as steroids. Along with being found in nutritional supplements there are many foods that contain probiotics such as: miso, yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, and various juices and soymilks.
Recently there has been renewed interest in scientific research into the effect eating probiotic rich food or taking probiotic supplements has on digestive disorders. The results of recent studies suggest that:
- Probiotics can reduce symptoms of diarrhea, especially when it is caused by taking certain antibiotics
- Probiotics may prevent and treat yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Probiotics may be an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Probiotics can minimize the occurrence of bladder cancers
- Probiotics can lessen the severity and duration of intestinal infections
- Probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation following colon surgery
- Probiotics can be used to treat eczema and asthma in children
There has even been research that would seem to indicate that probiotics could be used to increase general wellness. A 2005 study conducted in Sweden, found that a group of employees who took the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri missed work less often due to respiratory or gastrointestinal illness than employees who were not taking the probiotic.
TCM practitioners have intuitively known of the benefits of Probitics for years, and often combine their use with traditional TCM herbology treatments or modalities such as acupuncture. There is mounting evidence for the use of such complimentary treatments.
A recent study published by two American physicians in the Journal of the American Academy of Asthma and Immunology concluded that administering the Chinese medicinal herbs Gan Cao, Ku Shen, and Ling Zhi, along with probiotics had a positive effect on Asthma in children.
Another good example of Chinese Medicine recognizing the positive benefits of probiotics are TCM elixirs made from the herb Dong Quai. The herb Dong Quai is a member of the celery family. In TCM it is often referred to as "female ginseng" for the effect it has on female hormone imbalances and offering relief of PMS and the symptoms related to menopause. For men, Dong Quai also has been shown to support fertility and prostate health. Many commercially available liquid formulas of Dong Quai combine the herb with probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus delbreukii, Saccharomyces boulardii and Saccharomyces cerevisiae - making it an effective tonic for digestive distress.
Since probiotics normally exist in our digestive system - taking them is generally considered safe. But effectiveness in treating specific symptoms or conditions is strain specific. Before starting a regimen of probiotics, it is best to consult your practitioner, to decide which supplements or foods are right for you.