Dear Dr. Roach: With the current focus on gut health, I have been hearing a lot about probiotic supplements. Who should take them? Does the number of bacteria matter more than the types listed on the container? Does one take them daily, for a brief time period, or for extended time periods?
Probiotics are healthy bacteria in the large intestines that aid in digestion and possibly other functions in the body. Scientists are just beginning to understand how the intestinal bacteria (called the microbiome) affect many areas of health.
There are a few indications for probiotics that are well-accepted. The most important are in people with gastrointestinal conditions, especially in people with inflammation from inflammatory bowel disease. Some infections, including Clostridium difficile, may be prevented and treated with probiotics. This is not the primary treatment (which usually is antibiotics against C-diff), but it might be a useful adjunctive treatment or in recurrent cases. Gastroenterologists prescribe several different types of probiotics for these conditions. The particular type of probiotic might depend on the underlying condition and symptoms.
There is very preliminary data that suggest probiotics might be helpful in young children to prevent allergies, but its not solid enough ...