Benefits of probiotics – which beneficial effects can I expect?

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You can expect to experience a range of beneficial effects on your health by taking probiotics in the form of yogurts, kombucha, capsules or as a powder. The desired effects include improved intestinal health, weight loss, a strengthened immune system, healthy skin and a healthy mind. Probiotics do not have the same benefits on everyone, however. Find out here whether and how probiotics will support your health.

How do probiotics work?

Probiotics increase the amount of good microbes in our body. Countless microorganisms live in and on our body. The majority of species (over 100 trillion) can be found in our intestines. Here, bacteria and yeasts form a microflora that is essential for our health. For certain medical conditions such as the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn‘s disease, asthma, or being overweight, the microflora becomes unbalanced and results in a bacterial miscolonization (dysbiosis). When miscolonization occurs, there is a lack of good bacteria and too much of the bad bacteria. For example, a bacterial miscolonization can develop in the intestine, on the skin or also in our mouth. It is hoped that taking probiotics will restore the balance of the bacterial composition and increase the diversity of bacteria.

How are probiotics grouped?

Probiotics are living, beneficial microorganisms that should have a positive impact on bodily functions. You can divide them into the following four groups:

  • Probiotic food: Food that naturally contains probiotic bacterial strains (e.g. kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi)
  • Functional foods: Food with added bacterial strains in order to achieve positive effects for health (e.g. fruit juices or smoothies with probiotics)
  • Supplements: Capsules and powder with probiotic bacterial cultures
  • Cosmetics: Cosmetic products that are enriched with probiotic microorganisms (e.g. creams)

Besides probiotics, there are also prebiotics and synbiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible substances that enhance the growth of good bacteria but without containing live bacteria themselves. Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics.

What are the benefits of probiotics?

The research surrounding probiotics is still in its early stages. Nevertheless, the research provides initial indications about their health-promoting effects:

  • Body weight: reduced calorie intake, increased sense of satiety, less appetite and weight loss
  • Psyche: reduced levels of depression and anxiety and improved mood
  • Lactose intolerance: improved tolerance of lactose
  • Irritable bowel syndrome: alleviation of symptoms such as stomach aches, diarrhea, bloating and an improved microbiome composition
  • Traveler’s diarrhea: reduced risk of traveler’s diarrhea and shorter duration of illness
  • Cardiovascular diseases: reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes type II, lower blood lipids, decreased inflammatory markers
  • Immune system: lower risk of infection with respiratory diseases
  • Allergies: increased quality of life and fewer symptoms for hay fever

Do probiotics help you lose weight?

Study results on how probiotics influence body weight are not consistent in their findings. Initial studies suggest that probiotics have a positive effect on intestinal flora and therefore promote weight loss and a reduction in body fat. At the same time, probiotics could decrease the permeability of the intestine (leaky gut), which combats inflammation and increases the sense of satiety.

We know, however, that the weight-reducing effect of probiotics largely depends on the bacterial strains that are used. Not every probiotic and not every combination of strains have the same beneficial effect. Together with a decreased caloric intake, various combinations of the following bacterial strains proved effective in previous studies:

  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus paracasei
  • Lactobacillus plantarum with L. curvatus
  • Lactobacillus gasseri
  • Lactobacillus amylovorus
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Bifidobacterium animalis

References

Seganfredo, F.B., Blume, C.A., Moehlecke, M., Giongo, A., Casagrande, D.S., Spolidoro, J.V.N., Padoin, A.V., Schaan, B.D. and Mottin, C.C., 2017. Weight‐loss interventions and gut microbiota changes in overweight and obese patients: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28524627 

Crovesy, L., Ostrowski, M., Ferreira, D.M., Rosado, E.L. and Soares-Mota, M., 2017. Effect of Lactobacillus on body weight and body fat in overweight subjects: A systematic review of randomized controlled clinical trials. International Journal of Obesity.

Cani, P.D. and Van Hul, M., 2015. Novel opportunities for next-generation probiotics targeting metabolic syndrome. Current opinion in biotechnology, 32, pp.21-27.

What mental health benefits do probiotics have?

The bacteria in our intestine (microbiome) communicate with our nervous system and our brain. Communication takes place via nerves, hormones and immune cells.

This communication path is referred to as the microbiome gut-brain axis. It is hoped that by positively influencing intestinal flora, it will also have a beneficial effect on the psyche. In early controlled trials, probiotics were able to significantly reduce symptoms such as anxiety and depression. These effects now need to be confirmed in more major studies. Furthermore, it remains to be seen which bacterial strains among which people have the best effects on mental health.

References

Messaoudi, M., Violle, N., Bisson, J.F., Desor, D., Javelot, H. and Rougeot, C., 2011. Beneficial psychological effects of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in healthy human volunteers. Gut microbes, 2(4), pp.256-261.

Pirbaglou, M., Katz, J., de Souza, R.J., Stearns, J.C., Motamed, M. and Ritvo, P., 2016. Probiotic supplementation can positively affect anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition Research, 36(9), pp.889-898. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27632908

Do probiotics help with lactose intolerance?

Lactose can be found in many milk products and many people cannot tolerate it. A lactose intolerance results in symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating and diarrhea. Currently, the main way to prevent symptoms is by taking lactase in tablet form, an enzyme that breaks down lactose. In addition to lactose-free food, which is becoming more and more popular, probiotics are also increasingly being seen as a treatment option. Some studies report an alleviation of symptoms with probiotics. Here the main focus of study were yogurts with probiotic cultures. Interestingly, the lactose in yogurts containing lactose is tolerated better when probiotics are used. The studies use two different mechanisms to explain the effects:

  1. An increased breakdown of lactose in the small intestine by probiotics (probiotic cultures themselves release the lactase enzyme which breaks down lactose) and
  2. A positive effect on the microflora in the large intestine by which means the lactose is better tolerated and absorbed.

As part of the studies, the following bacterial strains, to name a few, demonstrated a positive impact on lactose intolerance:

  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Bifidobacterium longum
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus caseishirota
  • Streptococcus thermophilus

References

Vonk, R.J., Reckman, G.A., Harmsen, H.J. and Priebe, M.G., 2012. Probiotics and lactose intolerance. In Probiotics. InTech.

Pandey, K.R., Naik, S.R. and Vakil, B.V., 2015. Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics-a review. Journal of food science and technology, 52(12), pp.7577-7587. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13197-015-1921-1

Kechagia, M., Basoulis, D., Konstantopoulou, S., Dimitriadi, D., Gyftopoulou, K., Skarmoutsou, N. and Fakiri, E.M., 2013. Health benefits of probiotics: a review. ISRN nutrition, 2013.

Shi, L.H., Balakrishnan, K., Thiagarajah, K., Ismail, N.I.M. and Yin, O.S., 2016. Beneficial Properties of Probiotics. Tropical life sciences research, 27(2), p.73.

Staudacher, H., 2015. Probiotics for lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome. British journal of community nursing, pp.S12-S14.

Linares, D.M., Ross, P. and Stanton, C., 2016. Beneficial microbes: the pharmacy in the gut. Bioengineered, 7(1), pp.11-20.

Do probiotics help with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

The Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a widespread illness which can result in recurring diarrhea, constipation and stomach ache. The intestinal microbiome has changed in those people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. For this reason, many IBS sufferers hope to relieve symptoms by taking probiotics. Studies to date have illustrated that regular and long-term consumption of probiotics can result in the following positive effects:

References

Ford, A.C., Quigley, E.M., Lacy, B.E., Lembo, A.J., Saito, Y.A., Schiller, L.R., Soffer, E.E., Spiegel, B.M. and Moayyedi, P., 2014. Efficacy of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis. The American journal of gastroenterology, 109(10), p.1547.

Can probiotics help with traveler’s diarrhea?

There is a much higher risk of falling ill with severe diarrhea when traveling in regions where there are lower standards of hygiene. Besides a conventional travel pharmacy with remedies against diarrhea, probiotics are also considered for the prevention and treatment of traveler’s diarrhea. Researchers have evaluated a total of 63 studies with over 8000 participants. The studies showed that, by using probiotics, the duration of illness can be reduced by around one day. The frequency of bowel movements is also decreased. To date, various combinations of the following strains, among others, have proven to be beneficial:

  • Saccharomyces boulardii
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • L. acidophilus
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum

References

Riddle, M.S. and Connor, B.A., 2016. The traveling microbiome. Current infectious disease reports, 18(9), p.29.

Zaidi, D. and Wine, E., 2015. An update on traveler´s diarrhea. Current opinion in gastroenterology, 31(1), pp.7-13.

Allen, S.J., Martinez, E.G., Gregorio, G.V. and Dans, L.F., 2010. Probiotics for treating acute infectious diarrhea. The Cochrane Library. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21069673

McFarland, L.V., 2007. Meta-analysis of probiotics for the prevention of traveler’s diarrhea. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, 5(2), pp.97-105

Do probiotics prevent cardiovascular diseases?

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death worldwide. It is currently assumed that the composition of bacteria in the intestine may have an influence on our heart health. This theory is supported by an increasing number of studies. These studies show that probiotics could have a lowering effect on the following parameters:

  • Blood pressure
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Blood sugar  
  • Inflammatory markers
  • Body Mass Index

However, opinions are still divided about which bacterial strains in which dosage are most effective for each individual. Everyone reacts differently to probiotics due to different genes, bacteria in the intestine, environmental factors and lifestyle.

References

Thushara, R.M., Gangadaran, S., Solati, Z. and Moghadasian, M.H., 2016. Cardiovascular benefits of probiotics: a review of experimental and clinical studies. Food & function, 7(2), pp.632-642.

Do probiotics strengthen the immune system?

Researchers agree that probiotics have an influence on our immune system.

When evaluating 12 controlled trials with a total of nearly 4000 participants, researchers discovered that probiotics can help prevent colds.

During the trials, the use of probiotics made it possible to reduce the duration of illness by almost two days. Only around half as many study participants became ill if they had taken probiotics. Furthermore, less antibiotics were prescribed for those who took probiotics. However, more studies are necessary in order to definitively verify the prophylactic effect.

References

Hao, Q., Dong, B.R. and Wu, T., 2015. Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. The Cochrane Library.

Linares, D.M., Ross, P. and Stanton, C., 2016. Beneficial microbes: the pharmacy in the gut. Bioengineered, 7(1), pp.11-20.

Do probiotics protect against allergies?

Allergies are widespread in developed countries. Many people are plagued by hay fever, asthma or food allergies. Researchers evaluated 12 controlled trials. Here it was possible to reduce allergy symptoms by using probiotics. Aside from that benefit, less allergy medication was needed if probiotics had been consumed. The previous study data is not sufficient for generally recommending probiotics for allergy sufferers, however.

Allergies and intolerances often develop at a young age. Studies have yet to find sufficient evidence that administering probiotics to children, can prevent them from developing allergies.

References

Osborn, D.A. and Sinn, J.K., 2007. Probiotics in infants for prevention of allergic disease and food hypersensitivity. The Cochrane Library.

Vliagoftis, H., Kouranos, V.D., Betsi, G.I. and Falagas, M.E., 2008. Probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 101(6), pp.570-579.

Kechagia, M., Basoulis, D., Konstantopoulou, S., Dimitriadi, D., Gyftopoulou, K., Skarmoutsou, N. and Fakiri, E.M., 2013. Health benefits of probiotics: a review. ISRN nutrition, 2013.

What are the benefits of strong probiotics?

Probiotics come in various doses. The strength is indicated with the unit CFU (Colony forming units). The dosage of the probiotic is important given that the journey to the intestine is very long and probiotic strains may even perish during transport and storage. The stronger the probiotic, the greater is the probability that the live bacteria reach the right destination.

Nevertheless, we know that an increased dosage only has limited benefits. Researchers remain divided on the question of what the optimal dosage is. Besides the dosage, other factors also play a role. These include the type of encapsulation used to protect from gastric acid and the storage of probiotics, for example.

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Comments
  • Harper Campbell
    Reply

    It seems that a lot of people are taking probiotics these days and I am curious to know if there are any benefits that can come from them. I never knew that this type of pill is something that can help with relieving irritable bowel syndrome by alleviating the symptoms like stomach aches and bloating. Being someone who suffers from this kind of thing on a regular basis it will be great to be able to have a simple solution to help with it.

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