Probiotics is a term for the “good” or “beneficial” bacteria that normally reside in the intestinal tract, and it is also used to refer to the bacteria found in certain foods, such as yogurt and kefir, as well as nutritional supplements. The majority of the bacteria are from two groups, the genus Lactobacillus and the genus Bifidobacterium, which represent the primary microflora in the human intestines. Each genus consists of many different species and subspecies. A few probiotics are yeasts, such as Saccharomyces boulardii.
For optimal health, it is desirable to maintain a balance of the good bacteria with the “bad,” those that are responsible for disease and a wide variety of symptoms. When the environment in the intestinal tract favors the harmful bacteria, various health problems can occur, ranging from diarrhea to urinary tract infections, rashes, gum problems, and ulcers. Probiotic supplements can help restore the balance of good/bad bacteria in the intestinal tract and thus fight the negative effects of disease-causing organisms.
A recent report from South Central University in China suggested that probiotics may be a treatment option for men who have chronic prostatitis. The authors hypothesize that urethral bacteria may be a primary cause of chronic prostatitis and that widespread use of antibiotics may be contributing to the risk of developing this disease. Therefore they believe probiotics could be a viable treatment for chronic prostatitis. (Liu 2009) However, no clinical work has been done thus far to support this idea.
Some research has also suggested probiotics may be helpful in preventing cancer. Research indicates that the Lactobacillus species, which produce lactic acid, are associated with individuals who have the lowest risk of colon cancer. Probiotics may also produce fatty acids that reduce the level of pro-cancer enzymes. (Divisi 2008)
The amount of probiotics to take as a supplement depends on the symptom or illness to be treated or prevented. Generally, to prevent or treat diarrhea, the suggested dose may be 1 to 15 billion CFUs (colony-forming units, which is how probiotics are measured). (University of Maryland) Some clinicians are known to recommend higher amounts. You should consult your healthcare provider to determine the best dose for your needs.
Probiotics may cause stomach discomfort, gas, or bloating in some people when they begin taking the supplements. This generally clears up as the intestinal tract adjusts to the changing bacteria levels.
Divisi D et al. Diet and cancer. Acta Biomed 2006 Aug; 77(2):P 118-23
Liu L et al. Urethral dysbacteriosis as an underlying, primary cause of chronic prostatitis: potential implications for probiotic therapy. Med Hypotheses 2009 Nov; 73(5): 741-43.
Szymanski H, Armanska M, Kowalska-Duplaga K, Szajewska H. Bifidobacterium longum PL03, Lactobacillus rhamnosus KL53A, and Lactobacillus plantarum PL02 in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children: a randomized controlled pilot trial. Digestion 2008; 78(1): 13-17
University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/lactobacillus-acidophilus-000310.htm
Williams MD et al. Probiotics as therapy in gastroenterology: a study of physician opinions and recommendations. J Clin Gastroenterol 2010 Mar 8.