Holistic Medicine: Are Probiotics Helpful or Not?

We all have a huge number of bacteria and other living organisms in our intestines and most of these organisms support the healthy functioning of our bodies. The organisms that live inside our intestines, and the intestinal environment they thrive in, is called our “Gut Microbiome.” This gut microbiome is unique for everyone, and the balance of bacteria within our intestines is different than everyone else.

Several decades ago, doctors recognized that intestinal bacteria played an important role in our immune system and that certain disease processes were affected by our intestine’s ability to maintain a healthy balance of all organisms. Since then, diseases such as arthritis, heart disease and metabolic disorders have been found to be affected by this intestinal community of organisms, and a lot of interest has developed in determining whether certain drugs, foods, and dietary supplements that alter this balance can possibly improve or even cure certain disease.

When it comes to obesity, research has shown that the balance of intestinal bacteria is different for obese people and healthy weight people. However, so far nobody knows the reason for this; does our intestinal balance of organisms cause weight gain, or dos weight gain cause a change in our intestinal balance? In other words, which is the cause, and which is the effect?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that, when eaten in a significant amount, provide us with certain health benefits. Certain types of food are packed with probiotics; examples are yogurt, buttermilk, tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. The fact that we might be able to benefit from eating foods that have a high concentration of certain types of bacteria has led many people to assume that we can control our gut microbiome, and thereby control our health, by eating certain specific probiotics. Unfortunately, when it comes to excess weight and obesity, there is no evidence that our intestinal balance can be altered in a way that will improve our ability to control our weight.

Despite this lack of evidence, there is no law that restricts companies from defining probiotics any way they want, and from selling them as ways to improve your health. A huge industry has rapidly arisen where “experts” recommend certain probiotic dietary supplements as treatments for everything from Alzheimer’s to asthma and obesity. In fact, a survey in 2012 showed that probiotics were the third most common dietary supplements purchased after vitamins and minerals.

While there is a lot of research underway to determine how we can use probiotics to prevent and possibly treat certain diseases, there is currently no good scientific evidence that any probiotic can prevent or treat obesity.

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