Tummy troubles. Occasional irregularity. These politically correct phrases are used by advertisers to describe those uncomfortable gastrointestinal feelings many are all too familiar with, including bloating, constipation, gas and irritable bowel syndrome.
In recent years, more and more people are turning to probiotics in capsule or pill form or in yogurt with live bacteria to regulate their digestive systems.
Probiotics are used for a variety of gastrointestinal conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
The center defines probiotics as live micro organisms, or bacteria, that are either the same as or similar to micro organisms found naturally in the human body.
Probiotics are not approved by the FDA, the center noted.
"Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help to facilitate normal digestive and intestinal function, said Reuben Yoder, owner of Jo-Ad Specialty Market in McConnelsville.
At a glance
Probiotics are live micro organisms, or bacteria, that are either the same as or similar to micro organisms found naturally in the human body. Also referred to as "good bacteria" or "helpful bacteria," probiotics are available to consumers in oral products such as dietary supplements and yogurts.
Although not approved by the FDA, probiotics are used for a variety of gastrointestinal conditions including diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease and to prevent tooth decay.
The concept behind probiotics was introduced in the early 20th century by Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff, known as the "father of probiotics."
Consult your health care provider before using a probiotic dietary supplement. Probiotics-like any form of complementary medicine-should not be used in place of conventional medical care if you are experiencing symptoms that concern you.
Tell all your health care providers about any complementary approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine/National Institutes of Health.
"They are a significant part of the body's immune system. They're a valuable part in fighting any type of infections," he added.
There's little wonder why so many Americans suffer from pesky gastrointestinal issues.
"The problem arises with the standard American diet, the regular junk food diet," said David Hawkins, owner/herbalist at Mother Earth Foods in Parkersburg.
Many people in our culture tend toward imbalances in probiotics because of poor diet and stress, said Yoder.
Friendly bacteria used to come from traditional foods like sauerkraut, (unpasteurized) buttermilk, raw vinegar and naturally-made soy sauce, Hawkins said.
But plenty of other things in life can negatively affect the amount of bacteria present in the human body.
"Pharmaceutical drugs can be detrimental (plus) alcohol, pesticide and herbicide residuals on veggies, and chlorinated water," said Hawkins.
Antibiotics are the primary drug that interferes with the body's digestive system.
"Antibiotics don't discriminate between good and bad bacteria, they just go in and wipe out whatever is there," Hawkins said.
Probiotics can help "replace the good bacteria that has been lost" for those needing to use antibiotics, Yoder said.
For those using yogurt to replace antibiotics Hawkins recommended plain yogurt with live bacteria.
"Don't eat it with a big meal, eat it with fruit," he said.
Flavored yogurt can contain sugar which is "detrimental to the absorption of probiotics," he added.
Probiotics in capsule or pill form must be kept refrigerated.
"Heat destroys the probiotics," said Hawkins.
Both Yoder and Hawkins said they believe probiotics work.
"Absolutely, no question, hands down, these things do work in your body," said Hawkins.
Yoder suggested that those considering probiotics discuss its use with a medical health professional or a knowledgeable individual.
The benefits of probiotics include improved digestion, regularity and immune functions.
"There's no stage of life that can't benefit from and in fact doesn't need probiotics," Yoder said.
Hawkins declared probiotics "very safe. There are no contra indications, they don't nullify anything, don't interfere with any pharmaceuticals."
Matt Barton, 29, of Coal Run, said he probably wouldn't use any over-the-counter probiotics.
Instead, he relies on exercise, water and a diet high in fiber to keep his digestive system on track.
"I believe in using a natural diet to keep yourself healthy," Barton said.
Jennifer McCoy, 17, of Racine, tried Dannon's Activia yogurt, a probiotic, and found it to be helpful.
"I tried it because it was in the house," she said.
She, too, drinks plenty of water to be sure her system stays in shape.
For Marke Vickers, 63, of Marietta, Activia was "not very tasty."
"I believe it's a bit of a hoax as far as regulating you," she added.
Yet Vickers said she knows her body needs vitamins, water and fiber.
"The older (women) get, you need fiber," she added.