DEAR DR. ROACH: After viewing an infomercial that praised the benefits of probiotics, I would like to know what you think. Probiotics have been prescribed when one is taking antibiotics to replenish the good bacteria that is lost.
When taking no medication, I found that when I took one capsule (30 billion live cultures per capsule/10 probiotic strains) on a daily basis, I would get gas and diarrhea; therefore, I stopped taking them. I thought that this was the exact opposite reaction that should have occurred. Please write about the pros and cons and the reasons/necessity for taking probiotics on a daily basis. — D.A.M.
ANSWER: Probiotics are microorganisms, usually bacteria or yeast, that have beneficial properties. There is at least some evidence to support the use of probiotics for inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), colon inflammation from radiation, irritable bowel syndrome and other diseases of the GI tract.
However, with a few exceptions, there is very little evidence that taking anything (prescription or supplement) is of benefit to people who are healthy with no symptoms. Probiotics haven’t been shown to benefit healthy people. Any treatment can have side effects.
While there may be some benefits, such as preventing antibiotics-associated diarrhea, I hesitate before recommending any treatment to a healthy, asymptomatic person.
DEAR DR. ROACH: Does high blood pressure cause irregular or abnormal heart rhythms? — P.K.S.
ANSWER: Not usually. In some people with very longstanding high blood pressure, the heart can become dilated — blown up like a balloon to much more than its normal size. When the heart, particularly the atria (the top chambers), becomes dilated like that, it makes atrial fibrillation more likely.
High blood pressure is very common. Irregular heartbeats are universal — we all have some every day. It is human nature to associate one problem with another, since they are both related to the heart. However, it’s more likely that the everyday irregularities you may have had without noticing take on new significance with a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
That being said, since it is possible they are related, it’s certainly worth an EKG next time you see your internist or cardiologist to make sure you don’t have a dangerous heart rhythm. Sometimes doctors order 24-hour (or longer) EKGs for use at home, which can be correlated with any symptoms of heart irregularities.
The booklet on abnormal heart rhythms explains atrial fibrillation and the more common heart-rhythm disturbances in detail. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Roach — No. 107W, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
. DEAR DR. ROACH: I have lower-back ache and have been seeing a chiropractor, which helps a little. Would yoga help? — A. ANSWER: Yoga does help many people with back pain, but it’s important to find an instructor with experience with beginners and in using yoga specifically for back pain. Similarly, tai chi
and Pilates exercises have been shown to be useful treatments for back pain. Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med. cornell.edu. To view and order health pamphlets, visit www.rbmamall.com, or write to Good Health, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803.