Information, effects, deficiency, dosage, side effects
The well-known doctor Paracelsus already knew that death was in the gut. 'The healthy intestine is the root of all health,' said Hippocrates, who also made a name for himself in medicine. Two quotes that show how important the intestine is for human health. But our current eating habits do not help the organ function optimally. Probiotics can help regulate the intestinal milieu and thus have a positive effect on intestinal health and on the general state of health.
Probiotics are preparations, in the majority of food supplements, that contain viable microorganisms. These microorganisms are also known as probiotic bacteria.
Probiotic bacteria are microorganisms that are located in the intestinal mucosa and support the body in absorbing nutrients and in warding off pathogens. In fact, there are 10 times more probiotic bacteria in the gut than there are cells in the human body. Our skin and digestive system alone house around 2,000 different types of bacteria.
Probiotic bacteria have been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system and contribute to a healthy digestion. The good intestinal bacteria are also responsible for
From the moment we are born, our intestines are colonized by probiotic bacteria: In the birth canal, a child comes into contact with his mother's intestinal bacteria for the first time. With this event, a chain reaction takes place in the child's digestive tract and the child's intestine begins to produce health-promoting bacteria.
If there is a deficiency of probiotic bacteria, this can result in indigestion, skin problems, candida infections, autoimmune diseases, frequent colds and flu infections.
In the past, when fresh foods that grew on rich soil were on the menu and the foods were fermented to prevent them from spoiling, humans always ingested probiotic bacteria in sufficient quantities through food.
However, due to the use of refrigerators, the use of unnatural agricultural methods and the disinfection of foods with chlorine, our food now contains little to no probiotic bacteria. Many foods even contain dangerous antibiotics that decimate the good bacteria in our body.
Probiotics are available in many different forms. A basic distinction is made here between functional foods, foods that naturally contain probiotic microorganisms and food supplements.
Now, probiotic bacteria have been added to numerous foods. An example of this are probiotic yogurts or milk drinks that contain bacteria such as lactobacilli. Although these are tasty, their health benefits are extremely controversial. In most foods, the number of microorganisms is far too small to be effective. If you want to actively promote your intestinal health, you should use probiotic food supplements.
A good method of preparation for food that has been used less and less in the past decades is fermentation. During fermentation, vegetables are preserved using probiotic microorganisms or enzymes. Sauerkraut, tofu, miso and kimchi, but also buttermilk and kefir are fermented or lactic acid-fermented foods.
Raw and fermented sauerkraut not only contains various vitamins, but also lactic acid bacteria. Fermented foods can be used well in combination with probiotic supplements. However, these offer a decisive advantage: They contain a standardized number of probiotic microorganisms and can therefore be dosed precisely.
Probiotics are available in powder, capsule and tablet form. The dosage form plays an important role because the bacteria are quite sensitive. For example, probiotic microorganisms are extremely sensitive to heat or acid.
Without protection, up to 90 percent of the bacteria in the stomach are destroyed by gastric acid or in the small intestine by digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile acid from the liver. Ingestion in the form of enteric-coated capsules can therefore make sense.
In connection with the topic of intestinal health, the term prebiotics is often used in addition to the term probiotics. It is not uncommon for both terms to be used synonymously. However, there are clear differences.
Probiotics are viable microorganisms. However, prebiotics serve as food for these microorganisms. It is fiber that humans can't digest. So they are not absorbed by the intestine, but used by the bacteria in the intestinal flora.
Prebiotics can be found, for example, in foods such as chicory or onions. Psyllium is also a well-known prebiotic. The soluble fiber can promote the growth and activity of the bacteria in the intestine. Prebiotics are therefore a useful addition to probiotic food supplements.
Trillions of germs from more than 30 species with around 400 to 500 different types colonize the intestine. Together they form the intestinal flora. Only a few of these intestinal bacteria are also used as probiotics. This includes:
Saccharomyces boulardii and Saccharomyces cerevisiae are also used. However, these are not probiotic bacteria, but yeasts.
Escherichia coli, or E. coli for short, is probably the best-known type of bacteria. Although the bacterium only makes up 0.1 percent of the total amount of germs in the intestine, it is still one of the best-researched intestinal bacteria.
E. coli takes on important tasks in the intestine. The bacterium forms antimicrobial substances and thus contributes to healthy colonization. E. coli also trains the so-called intestinal-associated immune system and stabilizes the natural intestinal barrier.
Lactobacilli are found in the human body. It is not only in the small and large intestine, but also in the oral cavity and in the vagina. In the food industry, they are used specifically as starter cultures in the production of fermented foods and sausages.
Lactobacilli in the human intestine primarily serve to protect against foreign germs. They can inhibit the growth and multiplication of putrefactive germs such as clostridia.
The following lactobacilli belong to the obligatory flora of the intestine:
Enterococci are mostly found in the large intestine, but also colonize the small intestine. Just like lactobacilli, these probiotic bacteria are also used as starter cultures in the food industry.
The most important species for humans are Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis. These produce short-chain fatty acids and thus acidify the intestinal environment. This also inhibits the growth of potentially pathogenic germs.
Bifidobacteria are mainly found in the large intestine. A large part of the colon flora consists of bifidobacteria. The bacteria also colonize the mouth and the vagina.
Although the probiotic microorganisms only influence the intestinal associated immune system to a small extent, they act as placeholders. This way, they make a decisive contribution to maintaining the intestinal environment. In addition, they enter into a synergism with the enterococci and the lactobacilli.
Important representatives of the bifidobacteria are:
Probiotics are defined as living or viable microorganisms, which can enter the colon in their active form when taken orally.
Professor Dr. Gerhard Reuter from the Free University of Berlin postulates the following important properties of probiotic cultures:
The gut contains both good and harmful bacteria. Digestive experts agree that the intestinal flora should consist of approximately 85 percent good bacteria and 15 percent bad bacteria. If this ratio gets out of balance, dysbiosis or dysbacteria will result.
This means there is an imbalance due to an excess of certain fungi, yeasts or bacteria which affects the body. By eating certain probiotic foods or taking probiotics, you can rebalance this relationship.
Probiotic bacteria offer a wide range of therapeutic applications, which are either based on the colonization of the gastrointestinal tract or the positive influence on the immune system.
According to several studies, taking probiotics has the following health benefits:
A lack of good bacteria in the gut is also known as dysbiosis. If the resident flora is out of balance, potentially pathogenic germs can spread.
The potentially disease-causing germs such as Klebsiellae are always found in a healthy intestine. However, the probiotic microorganisms such as lactobacilli or bifidobacteria consume the largest space here and prevent the other bacteria from spreading.
If there is a lack of these resident germs, other bacteria or yeasts and molds can multiply unhindered. Many bad bacteria and also fungi form various toxic metabolites such as ammonia. This can put a noticeable strain on the organism.
An imbalance in the intestinal flora has far-reaching consequences. On the one hand, digestive performance can be disturbed. There are problems with fat, carbohydrate or protein digestion. People with dysbiosis often suffer from changing stools, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps or flatulence.
There also seem to be connections between intestinal dysbiosis and serious intestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Even in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, the intestinal flora often shows little diversity.
Since the intestinal flora also plays an important role for the immune system, dysbiosis is often associated with an increased susceptibility to infections. If improper colonization leads to a permeable intestinal barrier, food intolerances, allergies or autoimmune diseases can arise.
There are many factors that impair the intestinal flora, making it a breeding ground for bad bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. A gut flora that is out of balance can lead to indigestion and intestinal diseases in the long run.
In order to maintain a healthy intestinal flora, you should avoid anything that could damage it. Above all, this includes:
To build a healthy intestinal flora, foods that are rich in probiotics should be consumed. A good alternative is a probiotic. This means that the intestine can be permanently populated with good, health-promoting bacteria.
If and which probiotics should be added to the body is an individual decision. There are no general recommendations or official daily requirements. A healthy intestine generally does not require any food supplements with probiotic microorganisms. However, a large part of the population already has bad intestinal flora damaged by poor nutrition or antibiotic therapy. Food supplements can restore balance here.
The following symptoms can indicate improper colonization of the intestine and a lack of probiotics:
However, the symptoms of dysbiosis are not always so clear that further diagnostics can be useful. Stool analysis can also be used to test which intestinal bacteria are not sufficiently present in the intestine. A stool sample is analyzed in the laboratory for this. The state of the intestinal flora can then be assessed in comparison with the standard values. If there is a deficiency, a targeted substitution is important.
In order to obtain probiotics from food, there is no need for food to which the probiotic microorganisms are artificially added. Functional food is often overpriced and often contains many unnecessary additives. A good and cheap alternative is offered by foods that traditionally contain a lot of probiotics due to their method of manufacture. This includes:
When the intestine is already out of balance, the consumption of probiotic foods is often not enough to regulate the milieu. With fermented and lactic fermented foods, it is never certain which and how many bacteria they actually contain. Dietary supplements with probiotic bacteria should therefore be preferred for targeted intestinal rehabilitation.
There are a few things to consider when purchasing probiotics. For one thing, it's important to know how many bacteria are in each capsule. With daily probiotic intake, this should be at least 5 to 10 billion colony-forming units. Of course, it is equally important to know which bacteria can be found in the preparation.
If a deficiency was determined using stool flora analysis, a preparation can be selected based on this evaluation. If the intake is based on existing symptoms, both intestinal-specific and colon-specific bacteria should be combined with different strains for the broadest possible effect.
In order for the bacteria to reach the intestine undamaged, care must also be taken to protect them from the stomach acid. Enteric-coated capsules are therefore recommended.
Bifidobacteria are a common type of probiotic bacteria that can be taken daily as a dietary supplement. Bifidobacteria, taken as probiotics, are a natural therapeutic agent for many intestinal diseases.
Bifidobacteria, like lactobacilli, is suitable for the prevention and treatment of necrotizing enterocolitis in newborns. They can also prevent diarrhea, especially traveler's diarrhea - a disease that plagues travelers in countries with dubious hygienic conditions.
Probiotics that contain bifidobacteria naturally contribute to the effective lowering of cholesterol levels. Several clinical studies have shown that bifidobacteria can lower cholesterol levels. Elevated cholesterol levels are associated with cardiovascular diseases - a major cause of adult death in western industrialized countries.
One of the most common types of bacteria is the lactobacillus genus. Lactobacilli make up a substantial part of the intestinal bacteria in humans and have been shown to have numerous health-promoting properties for their host.
One example is lactobacillus reuteri, a type of bacteria that naturally occurs in small numbers in the digestive tract of humans and animals. Lactobacillus reuteri is used due to its anti-inflammatory effects in necrotizing enterocolitis (NEK), an intestinal disease in infants. Research has shown that lactobacillus reuteri can positively affect the immune system and help the body fight this disease.
Today, various strains of the bacterial genus lactobacillus are successfully used to colonize the intestine and to provide it with a wide range of health-promoting effects.
Another example is lactobacillus casei or lactobacillus casei shirota, a bacterial species that is often found in the digestive system of humans and animals. Lactobacillus casei has a beneficial effect on leaky gut syndrome and has anti-inflammatory properties. The bacterial species is also successfully used for obesity and other metabolic disorders.
As already explained, an unbalanced diet and various other influencing factors favor an incorrect colonization of the intestinal flora. Since a healthy intestinal flora is of great importance for the immune system and for health in general, the use of probiotics can make sense.
One question that comes up again and again is: Can probiotics have a lasting positive effect on the intestinal flora? This question can be answered with a clear yes. Critics then note that the intestinal bacteria supplied can't settle permanently in the intestine.
Studies actually suggest that this is not possible. The bacteria can also be detected in the stool if they are adequately supplied, but colonization is rarely successful. Are probiotics nonsense? Not at all. Rather than reforestation of the intestinal flora, probiotic therapy is about modulating the immune system.
A disturbed intestinal flora often shows an impairment of the immune system, especially the mucosa associated immune system. The use of immuno-modulating bacteria makes sense here. By positively influencing the milieu and the immune system, more good intestinal bacteria can colonize again. In this way, probiotics can contribute to a healthy intestinal flora.
The enzyme lactase is required for the digestion of milk sugar from food. If there is little or no lactase in the small intestine, the milk sugar can't be divided. This remains unchanged in the colon. As a result, bloating, diarrhea or abdominal pain can occur. These complaints after consuming milk or dairy products indicate a lactose intolerance.
Probiotics as a dietary supplement can help stabilize the intestinal flora and improve digestive performance. Some probiotic bacteria are able to utilize milk sugar. Supplied probiotics can have a similar effect to that of the enzyme lactase and improve lactose digestion. This is also referred to as microbial lactase.
Constipation is both a taboo subject and a widespread phenomenon. With constipation, bowel movements are difficult, incomplete or don't occur often. There are many reasons for this. A low-fiber diet and too little drinking can cause constipation as well as lack of exercise and intestinal diseases.
According to the findings of microbiome research, constipation is also the result of a sub-optimal composition of the intestinal flora. Probiotics are a good alternative to conventional laxatives, which, if used too often, additionally damage the bacteria in the intestinal flora.
A meta-analysis from 2014 examined the effects of probiotics on constipation. To this end, the scientists evaluated 14 studies with around 1200 participants who suffered from constipation. The healthy intestinal bacteria ensured a faster passage of stool and also increased the stool frequency per week. The subjects' stool consistency also improved.
However, not all bacteria showed this digestive effect. The improvements were particularly significant for the Bifidobacterium lactis.
More and more people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. It is the most common functional bowel disorder. Women are affected twice as often as men.
Patients with an irritable bowel experience abdominal pain, constipation or flatulence. Diarrhea is also one of the symptoms of the disease. Since the cause of irritable bowel syndrome is still unknown, there is no causal therapy.
The irritable bowel syndrome is basically a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that this diagnosis is only made if, despite sufficient medical examinations, no other physical cause for the complaints can be determined.
However, most patients with irritable bowel syndrome have abnormalities in the intestinal flora. While the number of bifidobacteria and bacteria of the genus bacteroides is reduced, firmicutes bacteria or proteolytic germs are increasingly present in the stool.
The conclusion that the symptoms that occur in irritable bowel syndrome can also be alleviated by intestinal rehabilitation with probiotics is obvious. Studies have shown positive effects, especially for bifidobacteria and lactobacilli as well as for E. coli and enterococcus faecalis.
A positive meta-analysis is also available for probiotics that contain a combination of several bacterial strains. They can relieve symptoms such as gas, bloating and abdominal cramps.
The influence of probiotics on the course and symptoms of chronic diseases has been investigated in various research projects. There are many positive test results.
For example, a treatment with E. coli for the treatment of the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis during the remission phase has proven to be just as effective as standard therapy with the anti-inflammatory drug mesalazine. Probiotics can also have a positive impact on the chronic inflammatory bowel disease Crohn's disease.
Probiotics are particularly important in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. With an autoimmune disease, there are immune reactions against the body's own structures. Around 5 percent of the population in western industrialized countries are affected by autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, Graves' disease or diseases of the rheumatic type.
The exact causes of most autoimmune diseases are unclear. However, intestinal bacteria appear to affect the risk of this type of disease. An international team of researchers was able to demonstrate that the development of the autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes mellitus also depends on colonization, at least in mice.
Numerous studies also show a connection between leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus erythematosus. There are also abnormalities in the intestinal flora in patients with autoimmune diseases. For example, patients with lupus erythematosus are increasingly found in the stool. Similar deviations also occur in patients with scleroderma or Sjögren's syndrome.
This knowledge can be used in the treatment of chronic autoimmune diseases. Probiotics, for example, have an anti-inflammatory effect in the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis and can thus alleviate the symptoms of the patients.
Gastroenteritis, also known as gastrointestinal flu, is particularly widespread in the fall and winter months. Uncomfortable symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain.
A stable and healthy intestinal flora not only promotes digestion, it can also inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens and thus protect to a certain extent against infections. Yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii also bind bacterial toxins and thus contribute to faster recovery.
Taking different types of probiotic bacteria can have different effects on the immune system, especially on the release of cytokines and antibodies.
Antibodies are released by cells of the adaptive immune system and are used to identify and neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Cytokines are small signaling proteins that are important for regulating the immune system. They also affect the response to various triggers such as infections, inflammation, trauma and cancer.
Probiotic bacteria can influence inflammatory diseases and infections by changing the types of immune cells released and their activity, as well as the production of cytokines and antibodies. Probiotic supplements have the following positive effects on the immune system:
High blood pressure, also called hypertension in medical terminology, is a widespread disease in western industrialized countries. The high blood pressure significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as arteriosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. It is all the more important to effectively lower high blood pressure.
A study in rats showed that targeted changes in the intestinal flora can cause high blood pressure in previously healthy animals. Studies that examined the influence of probiotic supplements on blood pressure provide further evidence of a connection between the microbiome and hypertension. According to this, positive effects can already appear after an 8-week intake.
Bones are subject to a constant growth and transformation process in the course of our life. In order to withstand the constantly changing biomechanical forces in life, old and damaged bones are broken down and replaced with new bone material.
During this remodeling process, cells called osteoclasts are activated to reabsorb the old bone. Other cells, the so-called osteoblasts, are responsible for the synthesis of the new collagen matrix and thus drive the mineralization process to form new bones.
Studies show that probiotic bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria have a positive effect on bone metabolism. Some strains of lactobacillus can protect against loss of bone and increase bone density by inhibiting the release of osteoclasts.
They interact with the immune system and inhibit the release of cytokines, which results in a reduced activity of the osteoclasts and an increased activity of the osteoblasts. In turn, some probiotic bacteria can promote the digestion of food, making important minerals such as calcium available. This improved bioavailability of minerals promotes the process of bone formation.
These two effects of probiotics often result in a net increase in bone mass due to the increase in mineral density in the bones, which gives them more strength and stability. This is of particular importance for osteoporosis patients, because they tend to fracture their porous bones more likely if they fall.
Probiotics can not only improve the stability of the bones, they also have a positive effect on dental health. For years, doctors and researchers have believed that gingivitis and periodontitis are caused by plaque. However, there was growing doubt about this theory, as there were numerous people who had clear deposits on their teeth but still did not suffer from gingivitis. Still others had comparatively small deposits, but lost their teeth due to pronounced diseases of the periodontal apparatus.
As the cause of periodontitis and recurrent gingivitis, the bacterial colonization of the oral cavity became the main scientific focus. Porphyromonas gingivalis in particular, a gram-negative, proteolytic germ, seems to be closely related to the development of gum infections.
Probiotics can inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as porphyromonas gingivalis and thus also reduce inflammatory reactions. Controlled clinical studies show a positive effect of probiotic germs of the genus lactobacillus reuteri on inflammation in the mouth. After taking the appropriate probiotics, the study participants not only decreased their bacterial plaque, the unpleasant inflammation of the gums was also significantly alleviated. This effect was not based on home dental care.
Older and overweight men have an increased risk of hypogonadism, a decreased function of the male sex glands. This results in a lower production of the hormone testosterone. The decrease in testosterone production can have many undesirable health consequences, such as a decreased libido, increased body fat, loss of muscle mass, exhaustion and psychological disorders such as depression.
Probiotics increased testicular mass and sperm production in some experimental animal models. The probiotic bacteria used in these studies were the lactobacillus reuteri strain. These bacteria may represent a new treatment alternative to prevent age-related and diet-related testicular atrophy and the associated health problems.
Probiotics have also been shown to interact with oxytocin, another hormone that affects sexuality. This hormone supports the formation of social bonds and the sex drive. It is also essential for the mother during labor and after birth.
For example, oxytocin stimulates milk production. Oxytocin is also responsible for the mother-child relationship and a crucial factor in the bond between a mother and her newborn.
Children and infants can also benefit from the health-promoting properties of probiotic bacteria. The dosage and the type of probiotics must be adjusted to the age.
For example, probiotic food supplements are well suited for children who suffer from allergies or atopic diseases such as neurodermatitis. Success can often be achieved by taking the good intestinal bacteria on a regular basis.
In the womb, the baby's intestine is still free of germs. With a vaginal birth, the child comes into contact with the mother's vaginal flora. Many of the bacteria living here are also found in the intestine. The bacteria settle in the intestines of the newborn and gradually the intestinal flora arises there.
Cesarean section children, on the other hand, have no contact with this natural flora. You first come into contact with bacteria that live on the skin. There is a high risk that the wrong microorganisms will settle in this sensitive time.
In fact, there are studies that suggest that cesarean section children have a lower variety of bacteria in the intestine. For example, the genus bacteroides is almost completely missing. With such a disturbed intestinal flora from the beginning of life, the risk of developing allergies or becoming obese also increases.
For children who are born via a cesarean section, it is therefore advisable to take probiotics immediately after birth. However, the application should be discussed in advance with the midwife or the doctor. Furthermore, only preparations that are intended for use in infants should be used.
Colic in infants is a widespread problem in pediatrics and is clinically characterized as persistent crying and irritability lasting more than three hours a day with a frequency of more than three days a week.
There is increasing evidence that abnormal intestinal bacteria play a role in colic in infants because they affect the functioning of the intestinal muscles. They also produce putrefaction gases that cause bloating and cramps in children.
The administration of probiotics can lead to significant improvements in infants with colic, since this improves the balance of the intestinal flora. It has also been shown that prophylactic use of probiotics in babies can naturally reduce the occurrence of a colic. This is based on an improvement in intestinal peristalsis, which supports the emptying of the intestine in infants and thus less frequently causes constipation.
The importance of the microbiome for human health is only gradually becoming clear. More and more scientific studies are dealing with the intestinal bacteria and their health-promoting properties.
Probiotic drugs are used therapeutically for a variety of diseases. In addition to lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, yeast or E. coli are used.
For example, certain E. coli strains are approved for the prevention of recurrence in patients with ulcerative colitis. Probiotics are also prescribed as medication for children with acute diarrhea.
Probiotics are available in different dosage forms. Taking capsules offers several advantages. On the one hand, the capsules can be dosed well. They contain a standardized amount of intestinal bacteria, so that an even supply is guaranteed.
Taking the capsules with a little water is quick and easy. The probiotic bacteria are also quickly at hand when traveling or on the go.
The key advantage of capsules as opposed to powder or tablets, is the shell. In the case of a good probiotic, this consists of an enteric material. The shell then does not dissolve in the stomach, but only in the small or large intestine.
As a result, the sensitive bacteria have no contact with the aggressive gastric acid and arrive safely at their place of action.
If probiotics are taken with an enteric coating, they can be taken at any time. In the case of tablets or a soluble powder without this protection, the time of intake should be chosen so that the probiotics pass through the stomach as quickly as possible.
Taking this in the morning or in the evening on an empty stomach has proven its worth. At this time, the acidity in the stomach is quite low, so that the loss of probiotics is limited.
Alternatively, the probiotic intestinal bacteria can also be taken with food, as this partially neutralizes the stomach acid. Drinking a glass of water at the same time accelerates the passage.
In principle, probiotics should always be taken over a longer period of at least three months. A damaged intestinal flora needs a certain amount of time to regenerate.
In order to be effective, a probiotic must contain at least 5 to 10 billion colony-forming bacterial units per dosage unit. Most probiotics come with a dosage recommendation. If you have indigestion and may even be sensitive to certain foods, you should be careful with the dosage.
Here it is advisable to increase the dose slowly until the desired daily dose is reached. If symptoms such as flatulence, diarrhea or abdominal pain occurs, then the dose is reduced again.
Probiotics are usually well tolerated. Possible side effects include:
If these symptoms occur, it is advisable to reduce the dose of the probiotic dietary supplement first and then to increase it again slowly if there are no symptoms.
Pure probiotics do not contain any active ingredients that could interact with other medications.
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