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ProbioticsProbiotics’ are receiving a lot of hype these days from healthcare practitioners and the media. But what exactly are they?

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “any living micro organism that has a health benefit when ingested.” Probiotics are basically live bacteria and yeast; these ‘good’ bacteria are believed to play an important role in improving health and regulating intestinal function by balancing intestinal microflora.

The idea of ingesting live bacteria may seem counterintuitive, but research has indicated otherwise. In fact the digestive system is home to over 500 different types of bacteria that help keep the intestines healthy, assist in digestion and strengthen the immune system; an imbalance in the good-bad bacteria can have adverse affects. According to new studies, probiotics are beneficial for far more than digestive health only.

Though not conclusive, studies have shown strong evidence that good gut bacteria are closely related to brain activity. Probiotics affect the brain’s neurochemistry and can be a key factor in alleviating depression, anxiety and related disorders.

Research also links probiotics to lower risk of allergies and found that children of women who took prenatal probiotic supplements had a 30% lower occurrence of childhood eczema (an early sign of allergies). Probiotic consumption may also lower the risk of common childhood illnesses such as ear infections, strep throat and colds.

Women are particularly encouraged to take probiotics as they prevent two common problems – bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections – caused by a good-bad bacteria imbalance. Probiotics can prevent these infections, help manage active ones and also support antibiotic treatments.

There is emerging evidence that probiotics are beneficial for the urinary tract and can also help reduce waist circumference in post-partum women. The good bacteria are also known to be beneficial in regulating blood pressure and cholesterol and relieve symptoms of chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome and psoriasis.

Dark chocolate, milk, olives, pickles, soy milk and yoghurt are good natural sources of probiotics.

NB: Probiotic supplements should not be taken without advice from a physician.

– Samia Babar
The writer is Director, Health Awareness Society.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on October 27, 2013.