Many of us grew up with the information that germs are harmful and cleanliness is good. Though that general consensus still holds true, scientists have discovered in recent years that good bacteria and other microorganisms on our skin, in our mouth and throughout our bodies play a crucial role in our health, and possibly in our moods and mental acuity. These good bacteria in the gut are similar, or the same as probiotics. Probiotics have garnered a lot of attention recently and researchers are studying them to discover how they might be applied to help prevent or treat a variety of medical conditions
Within our gut, there are over 500 different types of beneficial bacteria. Common probiotic bacterial include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium animalis, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum.
Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
One of the ways probiotics can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression is through their ability to synthesize biologically active compounds such as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), catecholamines, and acetylcholine can be produced and secreted by bacteria within the gut. When released, they may trigger the epithelial cells to release neurochemicals that signal brain activity and affect mood and behaviour. Lactobacillus rhamnosus is a well-studied probiotic for depressions due to its ability to produce GABA.
Another way probiotic can alleviate symptoms of depressions is via their anti-inflammatory effects on the brain. Sustained levels of inflammation throughout the body and brain are now known to be one of the major underlying causes of depression and other mood and cognitive disorders. This inflammation can originate from the gut, and some probiotic may exert their effects in the brain by reducing inflammation in the gut.
Probiotics can Reduce Blood lipids and Cholesterol levels
Statins drugs and diets low in fat offer an effective means for lowering blood cholesterol levels and reducing mortality from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart diseases. Probiotics supplements offer a new nonpharmacological alternative to reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Studies have shown have shown that dietary elevation of plasma cholesterol levels can be prevented by the introduction of an L.acidophilus strain that is bile resistant and assimilates cholesterol.
The possible mechanisms of action of probiotics are cholesterol digestion by bacteria, deconjugation of bile salts, cholesterol binding to bacterial cell walls, and reduction in cholesterol biosynthesis. Probiotics were not found to impact HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
Colon cancer is the second to the third most frequent type of cancer in Western industrialized countries. Diet and intestinal bacteria are of great interest in the development of colon cancer because they represent manageable risk factors. Probiotics anticancer effect relies on its ability to inhibit intestinal bacterial enzymes that convert procarcinogens to more proximal carcinogens. Normal intestinal flora can influence carcinogenesis by producing enzymes (glycosidase, B-glucuronidase, azoreductase, and nitroreductase) that transform pre-carcinogens into active carcinogens. Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. casei species in humans may help decrease the levels of these enzymes.
Also, fermented milk products such as kefir have gained attention as a potent probiotic with anticancer properties. Kefir contains bioactive compounds capable of inhibiting the proliferation and induction of apoptosis in cancer cells
Probiotics in Diabetes and Obesity
Recent studies have suggested that probiotic-based selective strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria show beneficial effects on obesity and type-2 diabetes. These two strains decreased the insulin resistance and inflammatory markers in human subjects. Other studies have indicated that probiotics can lower glucose and insulin levels in those with diabetes
Probiotics can Help Boost Immunity
A probiotic supplement can help restore the normal intestinal flora in a way that boosts your immunity against allergies, infections, and cancer. It has also been shown to prevent or treat urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections in women.
Probiotics are Effective Against Diarrhea
Antibiotic use is a common cause of diarrhea. When antibiotic medications are prescribed to eliminate harmful bacteria that cause infection, beneficial bacteria are destroyed as well. The shift in bacterial balance can lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria and diarrhea. Probiotics can help decrease diarrhea that may occur as a result of antibiotic drugs in children and adults. Probiotics have also been found to reduce stool frequency in infectious diarrhea that occurs with food poisoning and gastroenteritis.
The Best Food Sources of Probiotics
- Fermented vegetables such as pickles and sauerkraut.
- Kefir: This is one probiotic that is generally considered safe and effective for control of diarrhea. Kefir is a tangy milk drink that is a little thicker in consistency than regular milk, but not as thick as yogurt. There are lots of products and varieties available that combine the natural tangy flavor of kefir with fruit or other natural flavors.
- Yakult: Is a cultured dairy drink that contains a proprietary bacterial strain Lactobacillus casei
- Tempeh: Tempeh is a beloved staple that originated from Indonesia. It is made by controlled fermentation of cooked soybeans with a Rhizopus mold (tempeh starter). This process binds the soybeans into a compact white cake. This food is also packed with antioxidants and isoflavone.
- Probiotic soy milk, soy yogurt
Are Probiotics Safe?
Probiotics may trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Other side effects include mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence (passing gas) and bloating for the first few days after starting to take them.
There are different types of probiotics available on the market. Currently, some researchers are unclear if probiotic supplements are effective. Despite these contradictions, some studies have produced positive results. Still, more research is needed to confirm that probiotics are safe and effective.
Always consult with your physician before taking any probiotic supplement. A supplement might interfere with medications you may be taking.
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Prebiotics and Probiotics. (2015). Journal Of Probiotics & Health, 03(02). doi: 10.4172/2329-8901.1000e120
Riscuta, G. (2013). Probiotics and Cancer Prevention as a Part of the Healthy Microbiome. Journal Of Probiotics & Health, 01(03). doi: 10.4172/2329-8901.1000e103