Probiotics and Diarrhea: What?s the Connection?
Posted by Health and Well Being on July 29th, 2017
It’s embarrassing, frustrating and, let’s face it, disgusting. It can strike infants and adults alike, and do so with a vengeance. It’s diarrhea, and everybody has had to deal with it at one time or another. Can probiotics help with this condition? The science seems to say that it can.
How Can Probiotics Help?
As you may already know, probiotics are designed to help boost the numbers of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. There are trillions of these microbes in your system, some of them good and some of them bad. These bacteria fight for control, and when the “bad guys” win, there can be serious consequences – diarrhea among them. Probiotics are meant to provide reinforcements so that beneficial bacteria can restore the proper balance to the gut.
When a Little Diarrhea Can Be a Big Problem
Diarrhea usually occurs due to some sort of infection in the bowels. Most of the time, it’s more an annoyance than anything, and will usually clear up on its own. You just need to make sure you take in enough fluids so you don’t become dehydrated.
But in some people, such as older adults and small children, a seemingly minor condition can become a major issue. Severe diarrhea can lead to a substantial loss of fluids that can be dangerous and require immediate treatment.
Just as there are many different types of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, there are also many different kinds of diarrhea. Probiotics can help reduce the symptoms of some, and not do a lot for others. Here’s a look at some of the more common forms of diarrhea, and whether or not probiotics can help.
Diarrhea in Children
The main cause of diarrhea in infants and children is caused by a particularly nasty pathogen called rotavirus. Probiotics have been proven to help reduce the duration of a bout of diarrhea caused by this virus – they could, in fact, help shorten it by as little as 12 hours to as much as two days.1
Diarrhea and Antibiotics
Antibiotics are powerful medications that have helped saved countless lives through their ability to destroy harmful bacteria. But they not only wipe out bad bacteria, they kill good ones as well. One of the consequences is that people who take antibiotics may be more susceptible to suffering a diarrhea attack.
As beneficial as antibiotics can be, they can have some troublesome side effects. These include gas, cramping and, in some severe cases, the development of severe colon infections.2 This is one of the reasons why so many medical experts recommend only using antibiotics when absolutely necessary.
A substantial amount of research has been done regarding the connection between antibiotics use and digestive issues. Several studies have shown that children and adults alike can benefit from the use of probiotics when taking antibiotics.3 Certain probiotics seem to work better in reducing diarrhea symptoms – namely the Lactobacillus strain of bacteria.
It’s only normal to wonder whether taking probiotics would nullify the work that antibiotics are doing. But when you do this, you’re replacing the good bacteria that were killed by the medications – not the bad ones you were taking antibiotics for in the first place.
If you’ve ever gone abroad and come down with diarrhea after drinking the local water or eating some local cuisine, then you’ve contracted what’s commonly referred to as “Montezuma’s revenge.” Studies are mixed when it comes to the effects of probiotics on this form of diarrhea. Some say that bacteria such as Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus acidophilus can help.4
C. Difficile-related Diarrhea
The C. difficile bacterium is one of the worst of the harmful bacteria, and can lead to diarrhea that is so severe it can be life-threatening. There is evidence that probiotics can help not only prevent this pathogen from entering the gastrointestinal tract, they can also help prevent a repeat infection. Certain strains of Lactobacillus bacteria are thought to be effective in fighting C. difficile.5
How to Take Probiotics
There are a lot of different ways to get probiotics into your system. They’re found in several different foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, but they are also available in supplement form. The most common ones are capsules, drinks and powders, but they also come in chewable form such as gummies.
If you choose to get them from yogurt, look for brands that clearly state they contain live, active cultures on the label. But it’s very important that they are non-pasteurized, because the pasteurization process kills bacteria. If you are lactose intolerant, talk to your doctor to make sure you’ll be able to handle yogurt or any other type of dairy product.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before using probiotics, whether you’re lactose intolerant or not. The reason is that they have been known to cause problems in people suffering from severe illnesses or those who have compromised immune systems.
If you decide you’d rather get your probiotics from supplements, make sure you follow the directions. Some products work better on an empty stomach, while others are designed to be taken with food. Also, make sure the labeling states that the bacteria are viable through the shelf life of the product. If it says something like “viable at the time of manufacture,” that could mean the bacteria have already died by the time you use it – making the product worthless.
Dealing With Diarrhea
Remember that you still need to take the necessary precautions if you have a diarrhea attack. Just because you’re taking probiotics, that doesn’t mean you can ignore common sense approaches to making sure you get through this bout as safely as possible. Always make sure you drink plenty of water so that you don’t get dehydrated. If you’re having a particularly severe attack of diarrhea, drink Gatorade or a similar sports drink that is high in electrolytes. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol, because they can often make symptoms worse.
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Joined: May 24th, 2017
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