Lately, a lot of people have been talking about probiotics, which are food supplements that contain live bacteria and yeast. These "helpful" bacteria are believed to aid digestion by creating an appropriate balance of healthy and harmful microorganisms in the intestines. This balance is essential not only for preventing digestive issues (a common side effect of cancer treatment), but also for maintaining overall good health. But, many people are skeptical about probiotics and wonder whether they actually live up to the hype surrounding them.
Potential benefits of probiotics for cancer patients
A number of studies have found that probiotics can have several favorable effects that may be especially beneficial for cancer patients. These include:
- Reducing the frequency and severity of antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Alleviating abdominal pain and bloating caused by irritable bowel syndrome
- Improving immune system function
- Relieving anxiety, stress and depression
In short, probiotics can provide several health benefits, but with one important caveat. In order to ensure their safety and effectiveness, probiotics should be used only under the supervision of a registered dietitian or other experienced health care professional. That’s because, when used inappropriately, probiotics can potentially be harmful. For instance, they can increase the risk of infection in individuals who have compromised immune function or low white blood cell count.
Much like vitamins and minerals, probiotics are best ingested through natural food sources. Some probiotic-rich options include yogurt, cheese, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, artichokes, oats and honey. If supplements are used, it is best to avoid types that contain both probiotics and prebiotics, which are often confused. Prebiotics are actually nondigestible carbohydrates that serve as food for probiotics, and are best derived from natural food sources, such as asparagus, artichokes, bananas, oatmeal and legumes.
To learn more about nutritional therapy and how it can help you manage digestive issues related to cancer treatment, you can request an appointment with a specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.