Now, everyone has heard about anti-biotics. But, look out, because the latest craze in the health food world is the area of "pro-biotics." What are these? Well, as you can probably figure out, these are "friendly" bacteria - and they are found in the digestive tract. A recent article from the Associated Press discusses this further.

Experts say probiotics are generally safe, and in some cases might be helpful. More research is needed, and it's a hot new area, reflecting a growing understanding of the role that naturally occurring intestinal bacteria play in health. This week, the National Institutes of Health is hosting a conference where top scientists will discuss recent advances.
From a business standpoint, this is a fast growing sector. According to the article, over 150 food products that have probiotics have been introduced in the market this year - compared to about 100 last year and just 40 the year before that. But, do they actually work?
Small studies have suggested that certain probiotics might help treat or prevent some types of gastroenteritis, diarrhea and allergic skin reactions, and the bugs are being investigated for many other ailments.

The NIH has declared the study of gastrointestinal bacteria and probiotics a major research initiative. The agency's upcoming meeting will highlight current science so it can identify research gaps and determine the direction of future research, said Crystal McDade-Ngutter, who heads an NIH working group on the topic.

It's still too early to say whether these probiotics deliver substantial health benefits. The research still has to be done. Pro-biotic detractors say that without a gastrointestinal condition, probiotics just exhibit a placebo effect.

In my clinical experience, in talking with some of the specialists around here, feelings are mixed as well. Some put all their patients on probiotics, and others say it's just a waste of money and give patients false hope of symptom relief. Me? I'm cautiously optimistic. I have read and I am intrigued from some of the early studies. But, I'm not completely sold - yet.