Studies show benefits of probiotics
Donald Aulds, M.D.
The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms (usually bacteria) which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (our bodies).” The original observation of a positive role played by certain bacteria was first described by the Russian scientist Eli Metchnikoff. He showed that if the intestinal flora (the complete makeup of all beneficial bacteria) was altered then the body had a greater risk of disease. By replacing the bad bacteria with good bacteria, the body was able to modify its response. Probiotics are available in foods and dietary supplements and are common in yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh and certain juices and soy beverages. The term probiotics comes from Latin and Greek words meaning “for life.” At the beginning of the twentieth century, probiotics were believed to benefit the body by preventing intestinal disorders. Today, research is ongoing on the benefits of probiotics in many disease states. A study in Sweden found that less work time was lost due to respiratory or intestinal infections when employees took probiotics.
What benefits are being seen with probiotics?
Studies are underway to see if benefits on multiple disease states can be seen:
- Lactose intolerance – Several studies recently have shown that certain strains of probiotics have allowed individuals with lactose intolerance to tolerate more lactose in the diet.
- Colon cancer – Lab studies on rats suggest that lactobacillus combines with carcinogens to allow the body to get rid of the carcinogens. Human studies are presently underway.
- Cholesterol – Animal studies have shown that lactobacillus can lower cholesterol by breaking down bile acids in the intestines. Bile acids that are not broken down can be reabsorbed as cholesterol.
- Lowering blood pressure – Clinical trials have shown that milk broken down by lactobacillus can produce a small reduction in blood pressure.
- Immunity – Lactobacillus protects against pathogens by means of inhibiting growth of certain bacteria that may cause respiratory infections, acute diarrhea, decreasing rotovirus in children, teeth cavities in children, and travelers’ diarrhea.
- Helicobacter pylori – This is the bacteria that cause ulcers in the stomach. Probiotics have been shown to aid in the treatment.
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhea – Antibiotics can cause an imbalance between “good” and “bad” bacteria in the intestinal tract which can lead to diarrhea. Probiotics have been associated with a decrease in the incidence and severity of the diarrhea. One study showed as much as a 50 percent decrease in the incidence of the diarrhea.
- Inflammatory disorders – Probiotics have been found to modulate inflammation and decrease incidence of inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.
- Mineral absorption – Lactobacillus has been reported to help correct malabsorption of certain trace minerals.
- Colitis – In a recent study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome was found to be decreased by using probiotics. Ulcerative colitis attacks were also reported to be less severe.
- Urinary tract infections – Recent studies have shown that probiotics were helpful in relieving the symptoms of urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginitis.
Are there side effects to using probiotics?
The World Health Organization has recommended the use of probiotics, which are considered safe in most situations. The only times probiotics are not recommended is if the patient has acute pancreatitis or a severely lowered immune system. When some people first begin probiotic therapy, they may have gas or bloating. Before starting any preparation, consult your physician to see if it will be safe for you to use it.