Our Gastroenterologist, Dr Eric Wee was invited to write this article for doctors.
Probiotics are one of the most popular health supplements. It is prescribed by doctors, used by patients and bought by consumers who believe that it maintains a healthy digestive tract.
Clinical trials have proven that probiotics are useful in the following situations:
– Irritable bowel syndrome
– Inflammatory bowel disease (especially ulcerative colitis)
– Eradication of Helicobacter pylori (an infection of the stomach that is linked to gastric pain and is a leading cause of stomach cancer)
– Diarrhea with antibiotics or Clostridium difficile infection of the big intestine
– Food poisoning with diarrhea
A probiotic is a living organism that is able to colonise the digestive tract. It helps us by reducing the leakiness of the gut and reduces our sensitivity to pain and inflammation. Probiotics are used to fortify foods (e.g. infant milk formulas) and are present in many diets as well (e.g. yogurt, Kimchi, Kefir, Sauerkraut).
Probiotics are not a panacea to digestive disorders. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, a change in bowel habit or diarrhea may signify a more serious problem such as inflammation, infection or even a cancer. Evaluation with endoscopy, stool tests or scans are usually recommended. The cure may be another medicine, but not necessarily a probiotic.