Probiotics have become increasingly popular in recent years as more research emerges highlighting their potential health benefits. But what exactly are probiotics? Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed. They are most commonly bacteria strains from the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium groups.
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Probiotics are found naturally in some foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi and can also be taken as dietary supplements in capsule, powder, or liquid form. The human body also contains trillions of microbes, many of which reside in the gastrointestinal tract. This community of gut microbes is collectively referred to as the gut microbiome.
There is growing evidence that the gut microbiome plays an important role in human health and disease. Probiotics may benefit health by positively interacting with the gut microbiome and aid in enhancing the gut barrier and regulating immune function.
With the popularity of probiotics on the rise, many wonder if they should be taking a probiotic supplement. Here are some potential benefits of taking probiotics:
1. May Improve Gut Health
Probiotics have been extensively studied for their ability to benefit gut health in multiple ways. Regular consumption of probiotics can help restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiome. However, an imbalance in gut bacteria is associated with many digestive issues like bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Multiple clinical studies reveal probiotics can effectively treat acute infectious diarrhea and antibiotic-associated diarrhea in both children and adults.
When it comes to supplements, Ortho Molecular Products offers a range of dietary aids, some of which may contain probiotics or other beneficial ingredients designed to support gut health. Being aware of reputable brands can help consumers make informed choices when looking to improve their gut microbiome through supplements.
Specific strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii are particularly beneficial for diarrhea. Probiotics also show promise for relieving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel habits. According to a meta-analysis, probiotics significantly improved overall IBS symptoms and quality of life compared to placebo. The beneficial effects are likely mediated through their impacts on gut motility, visceral hypersensitivity, gut permeability, and the gut-brain axis.
More research is underway to identify the most effective probiotic strains, dosages, and treatment durations for various gastrointestinal conditions. We strongly advise consultation with a doctor to determine the appropriate probiotic supplement and dosage for your digestive health needs.
2. May Boost Immune Function
The gut microbiome and immune system interact closely. Probiotics may provide immune-boosting effects by enhancing the gut barrier function, increasing antibody production, and modulating inflammation.
A study found probiotics reduced the number of common cold episodes by nearly 50% and decreased cold in children. The strains Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium breve showed the greatest immune benefits. Another review reported similar findings, with probiotics decreasing the incidence and duration of respiratory infections.
However, immune effects can vary substantially based on the probiotic strain. For example, a study found Lactobacillus paracasei, but not Lactobacillus rhamnosus, significantly boosted immune response to the flu vaccine in healthy adults. More research is still needed to identify the most effective probiotic formulations for enhancing specific aspects of immunity.
While early findings are promising, larger and longer randomized controlled trials are required to conclusively determine the immune-modulating effects of particular probiotic strains. Consultation with a doctor is strongly recommended for guidance on using probiotics to boost immunity.
3. May Enhance Heart Health
Heart disease remains the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Early evidence suggests probiotics could improve certain risk factors for heart disease. Multiple studies report modest decreases in blood pressure after regular consumption of probiotics. A meta-analysis found probiotics lowered systolic blood pressure by 3.6 mmHg and diastolic pressure by 2.4 mmHg compared to control groups.
Probiotics are thought to reduce blood pressure by lowering inflammation, a key underlying factor in heart disease progression. They may also have small beneficial effects on blood lipid profiles. A recent meta-analysis reported probiotic yogurt significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol by 8.7 mg/dL and 10.6 mg/dL, respectively, in people with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia.
However, more research is required to better understand the mechanisms and establish definitive recommendations for probiotics in cardiovascular health. Larger, longer-term studies tracking heart disease outcomes are needed. Consultation with a doctor is strongly recommended for guidance on using probiotics to enhance heart health.
4. May Ease Anxiety and Depression
An emerging area of research is examining the potential for probiotics to impact mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Communication between the gut microbiota and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis, may help explain these neuropsychological effects. Another study found probiotics significantly reduced symptoms of depression based on the Beck Depression Index.
Probiotics also decreased anxiety based on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory scores. However, results were mixed for other depression and anxiety rating scales. The strains and dosages used varied widely across studies. Specific formulations still need to be clarified for different mental health applications.
Overall, probiotics show promise as a supplement to standard treatment plans for anxiety and depression. More research is required to confirm their efficacy and safety for long-term mental health benefits. Consultation with a doctor is strongly recommended for guidance on using probiotics to treat anxiety and dpression.
5. May Improve Certain Skin Conditions
Probiotics may benefit skin health by altering the skin microbiome and reducing inflammation. A review of two clinical trials found that tropical preparation of probiotics can improve the appearance of acne lesions. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains were most effective at reducing acne severity, number of lesions, and inflammation.
Probiotics are thought to improve acne by modulating the immune system, decreasing skin pH, inhibiting Propionibacterium acnes bacteria, and reducing sebum production. Specific strains like Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 appear promising for acne treatment, but more research is still needed.
Probiotics may also be helpful against eczema, an itchy skin condition often triggered by allergies. A meta-analysis of studies reported probiotics significantly improved eczema symptoms, especially in infants and children. The strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis were most effective for eczema. Probiotics likely act by improving gut barrier function, reducing inflammatory cytokines, and modulating immune responses. However, optimal strains, dosing, and treatment duration still need to be determined. Consultation with a doctor is strongly recommended for guidance on using probiotics to improve skin conditions.
In summary, probiotics are live microbes that can provide a wide variety of potential health benefits when consumed. However, effects can vary greatly based on the probiotic strains and dosages used. Probiotic supplements should be viewed as complementary to other lifestyle measures like a healthy diet, exercise, and stress management. Always consult your doctor before starting a new dietary supplement. With the exciting probiotic research emerging, it’s clear these “good” microbes may have an important role to play in preventive healthcare.