Healthy Bacteria

Health Benefits of
Probiotics

You may be hearing a lot about the health benefits probiotics? Are you wondering if
these are true, and if you need probiotics? 

Scientists are looking at many benefits of probiotics. Those with the most evidence are outlined below. Because studies are done with a specific strain or combination of strains, this is only a general description of probiotic benefits.

Gastrointestinal Health Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics have been shown to help reduce duration of pediatric acute diarrhea, decrease symptoms associated with taking antibiotics, manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, reduce crying time in infants with colic and reduce relapses of ulcerative colitis. Certain probiotics may also inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori, bacteria that colonize the stomach and can cause ulcers and stomach cancer.

One of the best-studied effects of probiotics has been on the reduction in diarrhea severity and duration. Probiotics can prevent as well as reduce duration of several types of diarrhea. Lactobacillus has been found to be a safe and effective treatment for children with acute infectious diarrhea. Certain probiotics may also offer a safe and effective method to prevent traveler’s diarrhea, but research in this area is emerging.

Many studies have shown that probiotics reduce diarrhea associated with taking antibiotics in both adults and children. In fact, it is common for physicians and pharmacists to recommend eating a probiotic-fortified yogurt every day during a course of antibiotics to prevent diarrhea. More research is needed to determine which probiotics are associated with the greatest effect for specific antibiotics.

How Probiotics Boost Your Immune Health

Probiotics have also been researched for how they support the immune system. Studies suggest that probiotics can improve how the immune system functions such as by decreasing upper respiratory tract infections in adults and reducing the need for antibiotics. Studies in children show that a regular diet including probiotics reduces colds and flu-like symptoms and improves attendance in preschool and day care settings.

Maintaining a healthy immune system is important for everyone. In other words, probiotics provide an additional tool to help the body protect itself from getting sick.

Probiotics Help Benefit Those With Lactose Intolerance

It is well known that people with lactose intolerance can often consume yogurt with few symptoms. This is because the probiotics in yogurt help digest the lactose in the small intestine, before it reaches the colon. In addition, the yogurt starter cultures L. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus help to break down the lactose. Because of its probiotics, yogurt is a good way for people with lactose intolerance to consume the recommended servings of dairy without experiencing uncomfortable symptoms they may get from other dairy products.

Probiotics Offer Potential for Obesity, Diabetes and Weight Management 

More and more evidence shows that the gut microbiota may play an important role in the development of obesity, obesity-associated inflammation and insulin resistance. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are associated with changes in gut microbiota. Several studies describe differences between the microbiota of lean individuals and those who are obese. The potential for using probiotics in weight management and obesity and diabetes prevention is exciting.

Probiotics May Contribute to Brain and Mental Health

This is one of the newer areas of probiotic research. Described as the “gut-brain axis,” researchers believe that the communication between the gut and the brain affects not just physical but also mental health and behavior. For example, a recent study found that probiotics can reduce anxiety, relieve stress and improve mental outlook. Another study found that the probiotics L. helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum reduced depression, anger, hostility and self-blame and improved problem-solving ability. Another study showed a difference in brain activity between women consuming yogurt and those consuming a placebo. More research needs to be done to confirm the effect of probiotics on mental and emotional health.

A Professional Viewpoint
Probiotics are very promising and used quite often in practice. Many physicians, including myself, use them regularly for many gastrointestinal issues and other issues like infant colic, preventing diarrhea in patients taking antibiotics and for overall immune and respiratory health. There is still a lot more research that needs to be conducted but it is clear that they are here to stay, and the research base is likely only going to lead to increased use in many other conditions in both preventing and treating diseases.
Continuing Education

Resources and References