Probiotics can help the gastrointestinal system to break down food and absorb more nutrients while also preventing parasitic bacteria from thriving in the gut. Probiotics have also been shown to interact with the human immune system, making probiotics a natural remedy in inflammatory and other immune-mediated diseases.
Probiotics Health Benefits
Probiotic bacteria come with a vast array of therapeutic benefits, which are either related to the colonization of the gastrointestinal tract (GI) tract or how they positively influence the immune system.
Several scientific studies have suggested the following health benefits with probiotic supplementation:
- Reduce circulating cholesterol levels
- Improve glucose metabolism
- Protect against insulin resistance
- Increase weight loss in obese patients
- Ameliorate metabolic dysfunction
- Reduce infantile colic
- Reduce symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections
- Prevent bone loss associated with aging
- Prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis
- Stimulate salivary antibodies that protect teeth from cavities
- Improve female fertility
- Improve testosterone levels in men
- Reduce hyper-responsiveness in allergies
- Compete and reduce helicobacter pylori colonization
- Improve skin quality
- Compete and reduce pathogenic bacteria in cases of cystic fibrosis
What can damage probiotics in your gut?
There are many factors that can disbalance the intestinal flora. As a result, the gut can become a breeding ground for bad bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. An intestinal flora that is out of balance can permanently lead to digestive problems and intestinal disorders.
In order to maintain a healthy intestinal flora, one should avoid anything that could damage the probiotics. These include:
- Chlorinated drinking water
- Highly processed food
- Genetically modified food
- Emotional stress
To build a healthy intestinal flora, consume foods rich in probiotics or take a probiotic supplement. This is the safest way to permanently colonize the intestine with good, health-promoting bacteria.
1. The Health Benefits of Lactobacillus
One of the more common types of bacteria is the lactobacillus genus, which are a major component of the microbe population in humans and have been proven to impart a number of health benefits on their host. An example is lactobacillus reuteri, which is a type of bacteria naturally found in the digestive tract of humans and other animals, although usually only in small numbers.
The probiotic lactobacillus reuteri was used for its anti-inflammatory effects against a gastrointestinal disease of infants, called necrotizing enterocolitis. Here, research showed that lactobacillus reuteri could influence the immune system and help the body combat this disease.
Today, different strains of the lactobacillus bacterial species have been successfully used to colonize the gut and impart a wide range of different health benefits.
Another example is lactobacillus casei, or lactobacillus casei Shirota, which is another species of bacteria often found in the gastrointestinal system of humans and animals.
Lactobacillus casei improves the permeability of the gut (also known as leaky gut syndrome) as well as imparting anti-inflammatory benefits. Lactobacillus casei has been successfully used as a natural alternative against obesity and other metabolic disorders.
2. The Health Benefits of Bifidobacteria
Bifidobacteria cultures are another increasingly common type of probiotic that can be used as a daily supplement. Bifidobacteria can be occasionally found living in the intestines of humans and animals and as a probiotic, bifidobacteria offers a natural therapy against many conditions that affect the intestines.
Bifidobacteria can be used much like lactobacillus: it can help prevent and treat necrotizing enterocolitis in newborns. It can also help prevent diarrhea, especially traveler’s diarrhea - a common affliction for people who travel to countries with questionable hygiene habits.
Probiotics containing bifidobacteria have been proposed to be a natural remedy to effectively lower cholesterol levels. In several human studies, bifidobacterium lowered high cholesterol levels, which are associated with cardiovascular disease - one of the major causes of death in adults in developed countries in the Western world.
Probiotics and Metabolic Dysfunction
Metabolic syndrome is a group of disorders that increase your risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and stroke. The metabolic risk factors include obesity, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar.
Scientists have shown that diets, high in fat, can trigger an increase in the presence of bad bacteria in the gut. These types of bacteria then influence the immune system and add to the dysfunction in glucose metabolism that causes weight gain.
The lactobacillus species of bacteria had been shown to have a potent protective effect against diabetes by positively affecting insulin sensitivity. This can help in controlling metabolic dysfunction including glucose intolerance and high cholesterol levels.
Insulin resistance and glucose metabolism are also affected in metabolic dysfunction and obesity. A number of studies have shown that probiotics can protect against insulin resistance as well as promoting weight loss in cases of obesity.
Probiotics and Infantile Colic
Infantile colic is a common problem in pediatric medicine and is clinically characterized by inconsolable crying and irritability for more than three hours a day and for more than three days a week.
There is increasing evidence of the role of abnormal gut bacteria in infantile colic with issues arising in gut muscle function and excess gas production. It is believed that if the intestine is colonized certain types of bad bacteria then this is negatively associated with increased colonic fermentation.
Probiotic administration in adequate amounts can confer significant health benefits to colicky infants by changing the populations of bacteria that are in the digestive tract to a more healthy balance of bacterial species.
Prophylactic treatment with probiotics in infants has also been shown to naturally reduce the occurrence of infantile colic. It does this by improving gastrointestinal function, including increasing bowel evacuations in infants and thus reducing constipation.
Alternatively, probiotics may also increase regurgitations and burping, which is a normal and healthy occurrence in infants that helps to relieve uncomfortable gas build up.
Probiotics and Bone and Joint Health
Normal bone physiology involves the constant growth and remodeling of bone during an individual’s entire life. This involves the removal of old and damaged bone and replacing it with new bone that can withstand the changing biomechanical forces that a person experiences through different stages of their life.
The remodeling process involves activation of cells called osteoclasts that resorb old bone while other cells called osteoblasts synthesize the new collagen matrix and the mineralization process needed to form new bone.
Probiotics such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium have been investigated for their positive effect on bone metabolism. Some lactobacillus strains may protect bone loss and increase bone mass density by attenuating the proliferation of osteoclasts. Here, probiotics may interact with the immune system and inhibiting the secretion of cytokines causing reduced osteoclast activity and increased osteoblast activity.
Alternatively, some species of probiotics may help improve the digestion of food that then release important minerals such as calcium. This enhanced mineral bioavailability improves bone formation processes.
Taken together, there is often a net increase in bone mass through the increases in bone mineral density, which gives it more strength and stability. This is particularly important for patients with osteoporosis as these individuals are more prone to bone fractures after a fall.
Probiotics and Immunology
Supplementation with different species of probiotics can have various affects on the immune system, specifically the secretion of cytokines and antibodies.
Antibodies are secreted by cells of the adaptive immune system and are used to identify and neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Cytokines, however, are a category of small signaling proteins that are important in the regulation of the immune system and how it responds to different stimuli such as infection, inflammation, trauma and cancer.
Probiotics can influence inflammatory conditions and infectious outcomes through changing the types of immune cells that are expressed as well as their activity, Including making changes to cytokine and antibody production.
The immunological benefits of probiotic supplementation, include:
- Probiotics can reduce the incidence and duration of infectious diarrhea.
- Probiotic can benefit children and adults against irritable bowel syndrome.
- Probiotics have been shown to stimulate antibody production against bacteria that cause cavities in the teeth.
- Probiotics have been shown to reduce the risk and severity of allergies.
- Prophylactic supplementation can be effective against atopic dermatitis.
Probiotics and Fertility
In aging and obese men there is an increased risk of male hypogonadism, which results in low testosterone production. The decline of testosterone is associated with many adverse health effects including reduced libido, increased body fat, decreased muscle mass, fatigue and mental health issues such as depression.
Probiotics have been shown to increase the mass of the testicles and increase sperm production in some experimental animal models. The probiotic used in these studies was the lactobacillus reuteri strain and this may be a novel alternative to prevent age- and diet-related testicular atrophy in men and the subsequent health issues that stem from this.
Probiotics have also been shown to interact with another sex hormone, oxytocin. This hormone helps in social bonding and sexual reproduction in both sexes and is very important in women during (contractions) and after (milk production) childbirth. The oxytocin hormone is also responsible for mother-infant relations and is a crucial factor in attachment and bonding between mother and baby.
Who Should Use Probiotics?
Apart form benefiting overall general and digestive health, people take probiotics for a number of specific reasons.
People with the following health concerns may take probiotics as a natural remedy:
- Low bacteria count in the gut after taking antibiotics
- High cholesterol levels
- Obese and metabolic dysfunction
- A baby with infantile colic
- Suffering from an upper respiratory tract infections
- Men with low testosterone levels
- Suffering with allergies
- Helicobacter pylori infection in the stomach
Probiotics Side Effects
Probiotics are generally considered safe and non-toxic, however, there may be some mild side effects, including:
- Bloating of the stomach
- Excessive burping and flatulence
- Mild digestive disturbances
The following list of medications may interfere or kill the bacteria that are present in probiotics. These include:
Different strains of probiotic bacteria can be effectively combined together for added benefits. Probiotics can also be combined with prebiotics as studies show that the growth and survival of probiotics can be improved through the stimulation of favorable growth conditions in the gut.
High quality probiotic nutritional supplements are the easiest and most convenient way to profit from the many benefits of healthy microbioms. Probiotics can also be combined with fermented foods such as
Why Take Probiotics?
- To increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut, especially after an antibiotic therapy
- To help reduce cholesterol levels
- To prevent metabolic dysfunction
- To treat infantile colic
- To treat upper respiratory tract infections
- To strengthen bones
- To protect teeth from cavities
- To improve female fertility
- To help against allergies
- To help in the treatment of pathogenic helicobacter pylori in the stomach
Other Names of Probiotics
Probiotics are not to be confused with prebiotics, which stimulate bacterial growth, or synbiotics, which are a mixture of prebiotics and probiotics.
Probiotic Studies and References
1. Cani P, Amar J, Iglesias M. Metabolic endotoxemia initiates obesity and insulin resistance. Diabetes. 2007; 56(7): 1761-1772
2. Lomax A and Calder P. Probiotics, immune function, infection and inflammation: a review of the evidence from studies conducted in humans. Curr Pharm Des. 2009; 15(13): 1428-1518
3. Cani P and Delzenne N. Interplay between obesity and associated metabolic disorders: new insights into the gut microbiota. Curr Opin Pharmacol. 2009; 9(6): 737-743
4. Leber B, Tripoly N, Blatti D, et al. The influence of probiotic supplementation on gut permeability in patients with metabolic syndrome: an open label, randomized pilot study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012; 66(10): 1110-1115
5. Poutahidis T, Springer A, Levkovich T, et al. Probiotic microbes sustain youthful serum testosterone levels and testicular size in aging mice. PLoS One. 2014; 9(1): e84877
6. Oner O, aslim B, Aydas S. Mechanisms of cholesterol-lowering effects of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains as potential probiotics with their bsh gene analysis. J Mol Microbiol Biotechnol. 2014; 24(1): 12-18
7. Parveneh K, Jamaluddin R, Karimi G, et al. Effect of probiotics supplementation on bone mineral content and bone mass density. The Scientific World Journal, 2014; 595962
8. Erdman S and Poutahidis T.Microbes and oxytocin: benefits for host physiology and behavior. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2016; 131: 91-126