Probiotics are live nonpathogenic microorganisms. Many of these microorganisms are part of the normal human gut flora, where they live in a symbiotic relationship. Probiotics have been used to treat gastrointestinal (GI) and non-GI medical conditions. However, the data supporting their use are often conflicting, especially for non-GI-associated illnesses. The strongest evidence supporting the use of probiotics is related to the treatment of acute diarrhea and pouchitis. Atopic eczema in children and genitourinary infections are the only non-GI-related medical conditions where probiotics may have some beneficial effects. Product selection and dosing are not the same in all conditions, and the beneficial effects of each probiotic strain cannot be generalized.
The purpose of this article is to provide most recent information about probiotics and its uses. In contrast with previously published reviews on probiotics, we also discuss the composition of various products (Table 1), indications for their use (Table 2), product selection, and dosing of probiotics.
Probiotics are safe and appear to exert some beneficial effects in GI-related illnesses. The use of probiotics in non-GI illnesses is not sufficiently supported by current data.