Side effects and risks
Some live microorganisms have a long history of use as probiotics without causing illness in people. However, their safety has not been thoroughly studied by the FDA. More information is especially needed on how safe they are for young children, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems.
Probiotics’ side effects, if they occur, tend to be mild and digestive in nature (such as gas or bloating). More serious effects have been seen in some people. Probiotics might theoretically cause infections that need to be treated with antibiotics, especially in people with underlying health conditions. Additionally, they could also cause unhealthy metabolic activities such as too much stimulation of the immune system.
Other points to consider
• No probiotic therapy should be used in place of conventional medical care or to delay seeking medical care.
• Effects from one species or strain of probiotics do not necessarily hold true for others, or even for different preparations of the same species or strain.
• If you use a probiotic product and experience an effect that concerns you, contact your health care provider.
Some researchers believe probiotics may improve overall general health by improving immune function and preventing infections. With the fast approaching flu season and the threat of Swine Flu rising, a product with the potential of improving immunity naturally could help.
Prevention of infections before they occur is clearly a better alternative than attempting to cure them after you are sick. Certain probiotics may be a safe, cost-effective approach that adds a barrier against microbial infection. However, more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of probiotics and their specific role in healthcare.
As with any dietary or herbal supplement, consult your doctor before starting any new treatment.
Robert Ellis is a Pharm D candidate from Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy, interning at The Pharmacy in Mt. Olive. The Pharmacy can be reached at 631-1201.