Ramya Kannan

CHENNAI: Don’t be alarmed to hear that your gut is teeming with micro-organisms - these “microflora” are good for your system. Have you heard of probiotics?

Probiotic literally means “for life.” They are live micro-organisms which are favourable to the human body and are often recommended to patients with gut problems.

Probiotics occur naturally in dairy products, mainly curd and yeast; in the soil; and in one specific fruit grown in Indonesia. They are also available as pills/capsules sold over the counter.

K.R. Palaniswamy, medical gastroenterologist, Apollo Hospitals, says “There is certainly a value in probiotics, especially in the digestive system.”

Gastroenterologists recommend it in the cases where there is an acute diarrhoea; and along with antibiotics to counteract the effect of the latter. It is also being used in patients who have been diagnosed with colitis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

“These are the more common conditions we use probiotics for. However, there are a few studies that mention that probiotics have a role in immune modulation,” Dr. Palaniswamy adds.

While there are 100s of types of microflora in the gut, the more commonly-used microbes in probiotics are Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria.

S.M. Chandramohan, head, department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Madras Medical College, explains its role in replenishing the beneficial microflora in the gut region. “The aim of taking an antibiotic is to kill the organism that is producing the infection. However, we must remember that the antibiotics not only kill that infectious agent, but also others that are necessary for gut flora.”

Therefore probiotics are prescribed when antibiotics are being taken. Malathy Sathiyasekar, paediatric gastroenterologist, says the main use is in diarrhoea associated with antibiotic use. However there are questions about when it should be started, how long it should be given, and the number of organisms that should be included in a dose.

While in India, it is recommended only in acute diarrhoeal disease, she says in America, it is recommended even for mild diarrhoea.

R. Surendran, head, Institute of Surgical Gastroenterology, Stanley Medical College, says the beneficial microbes come in really handy especially in a country where self-medication causes a great deal of erosion of the microflora.