What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that may benefit a person’s health. They are present in the human digestive system and in some foods and supplements.
Probiotics are useful bacteria. They exist throughout the body, although people largely associate them with the stomach and intestines. As evidence of a link between the gut microbiome and overall health grows, interest in them is increasing.
A person’s body contains millions of live bacteria. Many of these are located in the gut. Gut bacteria is known as “microbiome.” The microbiome is unique to each individual, and studies have shown it is determined from before birth. Research suggests that the microbiome changes throughout a person’s life based on their diet, lifestyle and exposure to different environmental influences.
How Do They Benefit Our Health?
Probiotics can help populate the gut with good bacteria, which is a key part of a person’s immune system. Gut bacteria have many functions in the body and affect things such as weight, mood and inflammation.
In recent years, there has been a lot of interest in how probiotics can support health and reduce a person’s risk and symptoms of certain conditions.
Probiotics may benefit the body in various ways, such as:
- Boosting the health of the gut microbiome.
- Restoring balance to the microbiome after an illness or treatment.
- Supporting the immune system.
Some studied benefits of probiotics will be discussed below.
The gut’s lining can sometimes become damaged, which may lead to intestinal permeability, which can allow molecules to get through into the bloodstream and cause inflammation or immune reactions.
Antibiotics can kill both bad and good bacteria. Sometimes, this can cause a person to experience symptoms of diarrhea when taking them. Taking probiotics at the same time, however, can help repopulate a person’s gut with beneficial bacteria and ease any symptoms of diarrhea. In particular, the probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii has been effective in the prevention and treatment of diarrhea that occurs when taking antibiotics or following infection.
Probiotics have been suggested to be effective prevention against or therapeutics for various pediatric and adult etiologies that manifest as acute diarrhea. Several meta-analyses and systematic review have indicated that some preparations, especially those containing S. boulardii, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) and other strains within the Lactobacillus genus, may ameliorate acute diarrhea in children and shorten its duration by approximately 1 day.
Likewise, probiotics have been shown to be effective in the prevention and treatment of acute diarrhea in adults, and it has been suggested that various preparations, in particular those involving S. boulardii and L. rhamnosus, improve antibiotic associated diarrhea both in healthy children and adults, and in hospitalized patients.
Certain strains of probiotics have shown positive results in treating diarrhea and gastroenteritis, inflammation of the gut’s lining, which can cause diarrhea.
A 2011 review concluded that probiotics may help combat different forms of diarrhea, including sporadic infectious diarrhea, acute watery diarrhea, and diarrhea due to a rotavirus. However, the effects would likely depend on the type and dosage of the probiotic.
Acute respiratory infections
Several systematic reviews and metaanalyses have suggested that probiotics may be effective in reducing the severity, duration and incidence of the common cold, respiratory infections and influenza-like symptoms in children, adults, the elderly and even athletes.
Irritable bowel syndrome and digestive complains
IBS is a common and clinically variable disorder of unclear etiology. One recent meta-analysis has suggested that probiotics may be efficacious in treating symptoms of IBS, although it should be noted that none of the single-strain preparations was proven effective for alleviation of abdominal pain or for treatment of bloating, flatulence and bowel urgency.
A review from 2019 found that probiotics could improve the symptoms of Inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis.
Research indicates that probiotics may reduce gut transit time, that is the time it takes for food to pass as a bowel movement, by 12.4 hours and increase bowel movements by 1.3 per week.
The Bifidobacterium lactis strain seems most efficient in improving gut transit time, stool frequency and consistency, and flatulence. The researchers advise caution when interpreting these results, however, as there may be bias in some of the studies.
Mental health problems
Some studies have shown a link between the gut microbiota and the central nervous system. The link is known as the gut-brain axis. Some scientists believe that bacteria in the gut could affect the nervous system and the way people think and feel.
The findings suggest that probiotics could one day support the treatment of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and possibly some neurological conditions, too.
High blood pressure
One study found that milk fermented with strains of Lactobacillus may help lower the blood pressure. The review also showed that consuming probiotics could lead to an increase in levels of vitamin D, which helps prevent high blood pressure.
If further research confirms that they can help manage blood pressure, they could play a role in the treatment and prevention of heart disease and hypertension.
A 2017 review concluded that consuming foods containing probiotic Lactobacillus bacteria could reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol.
Another study from 2018, a metaanalysis looked at the impact of probiotics on total cholesterol. After studying data from around 2,000 individuals the researchers concluded that probiotic supplements could significantly reduce total cholesterol levels in the blood.
Many studies have suggested that there are effects of probiotics on expression of immune related genes, inflammatory pathway activity and immune marker levels, including modulation of intestinal epithelial cell NF-KB, CRP, interleukin 6 (IL-6) and TNF (TNF)-α, through multiple mechanisms.
Protection against pathogens
Probiotics have been suggested to inhibit pathogen colonization via attachment to epithelial cells and physical blocking of the pathogen’s ability to adhere. This has been shown in culture and indirectly in mice for Salmonella and L. acidophilus or Lactobacillus fermentum.
Probiotics for males and females
The effects of probiotics can be different in males and females. In a 2014 study, researchers gave males and females with obesity Lactobacillus rhamnosus and found that females lost weight and fat during the trial and maintained the weight loss after completion of the study, compared to male, which did not lose weight.
What are Good Food Sources of Probiotics?
People can take probiotics in supplement form or in the form of foods and beverages such as yogurt and drinks that have live cultures added to them.
Fermented foods also naturally contain beneficial bacteria. Examples of fermented foods include:
Other foods that contain natural probiotics include:
- Soy based products.
Probiotics are also available as supplements. Probiotic manufacturers measure amounts of bacteria in colony-forming units (CFUs). Supplements can vary, with some commonly having a CFU of billions. Foods with added probiotics often contain lower numbers of bacteria. Generally, people might take higher-CFU products for specific conditions and a lower-CFU product for general health maintenance.
You can choose probiotics according to their CFU and the strains contained. If you want an excellent probiotic supplement, you could use Nutrifii™ Probiotiix™ that contains 15 different strains of probiotics and prebiotics with 20 billion CFU and with the added benefit of being Non-GMO and gluten free. You can get yours today:
Joseph Nordqvist (2020, June 24) Benefits of probiotics. Medical News Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264721#health-benefits
Louisa Richards (2019, December 24) A guide to the best probiotics. Medical News Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327389
Suez J, Zmora N, Segal E, Elinav E. The pros, cons, and many unknowns of probiotics. Nat Med. 2019 May;25(5):716-729. doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0439-x. Epub 2019 May 6. PMID: 31061539.