Probiotics are useful micro-organisms in the body. Most of them are bacteria but some yeasts can also be termed as probiotics. Most of the probiotics are found in the digestive tract. Scientists say that the number of bacteria in the body is 10 times the number of body cells. Some of these bacteria in the body are useful while some are harmful. There must be a balance between the useful and the harmful, otherwise, one might experience illnesses. This is the main reason why probiotics are taken, especially after taking antibiotics, as they tend to kill both harmful and helpful bacteria.
Types of Probiotics
There are many types of probiotics in the body. However, they can be divided into 3 major groups. These are: lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and Saccaromyces boulardii.
This is the most common type of probiotics. This strain is found in yogurt and other fermented products. Examples of strains include L. acidophilus which is useful for vaginal health, diarrhea and acne, L. rhamnosus which helps patients of eczema, L. planturum which is useful in reducing inflammation and L. casei that has is useful in promoting brain function and reducing diarrhea.
This type of bacterium is found in dairy products. Examples of bifidobacteria are B. lactis that boosts immunity, B. longum which aids brain function and helps improve constipation, B. bifidum which helps in gastrointestinal health and B. brieve that acts as an anti-aging remedy.
This is a type of yeast that acts as a probiotic. It helps in diarrhea and some digestive problems.
Other minor strains of bacteria include:
- which has shown to have beneficial results against anti-biotic related diarrhea when used to supplement L. casei and L. bulgaris. Some research has also shown that it helps in skin health by increasing the levels of ceramides in the skin, hence, preventing dehydration and infections.
- – this strain has been used in food processing and to aid in food ingestion that contains live and dead bacteria.
- which is found in the gut of humans and animals, and aids in digestion.
Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics have a wide range of uses. However, the benefits that come with them are specific to the type of bacteria. The following is a generalization of the benefits that probiotics provide.
Maintain Balance Between the Bacteria in the Digestive System
An imbalance between the bacteria in the digestive tract can be as a result of taking antibiotics, poor diet or due to an illness. This imbalance leads to issues in the digestive system, allergies, mental health problems or even obesity. It is therefore recommended to take probiotics after completing a dosage of antibiotics, so as to restore the bacteria that might have been killed.
Prevent and Treat Diarrhea
Probiotics are known to prevent and treat both antibiotic-associated diarrhea and infectious diarrhea (caused by bacteria, viruses and other parasites). Researches have proven that antibiotic-associated diarrhea is can be reduced by taking probiotics roughly by 42%. The dosage and the strain of bacteria in the probiotics are the main factors that affect its effectiveness.
Improve Mental Health Conditions
Gut health which is caused by the proper working of probiotics has often been linked to mood and mental health by a number of studies. This applies to both animals and human beings. Taking supplements of Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus has been found to improve anxiety, depression, memory, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Keeping a Healthy Heart
Probiotics can help to maintain the healthy conditions of the heart by lowering the LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. This is possible because some bacteria produce lactic acid which breaks down bile in the digestive tract. Since bile is mostly made up of cholesterol, it can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream causing an increase in cholesterol levels. Breaking it down prevents this re-absorption and therefore leads to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. This helps to keep the heart healthy and prevent many heart conditions and diseases.
Probiotics also help to lower blood pressure. This is particularly useful for people who suffer from hypertension. Lower blood pressure reduces the risk of heart attack and keeps the heart healthy.
Reduce the Severity of Eczema and Some Allergies
Studies have shown that children who are given probiotics have a lower risk of developing eczema in their early years. Other studies reveal that infants whose mothers took probiotics during their pregnancy also reduced the risk for eczema. However, more research is needed in this field to establish a strong connection between the probiotics and eczema.
Reduce Symptoms of Digestive Disorders
Probiotics have been linked to the improvement of symptoms of some conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), infectious diarrhea which is caused by bacteria and other parasites, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Some probiotics have also proven to be useful against symptoms of mild ulcerative colitis.
Help Boost Immunity
Existence of probiotics in the gut when in balance with the harmful bacteria helps to reduce the effect of harmful bacteria on the body. This helps to keep the body’s immunity in check. Some bacteria also stimulate the production of more antibodies. The increase of antibodies in the blood boosts the body’s immunity.
The bacteria in slim people and obese people are different. Bacteria have been proven to have an effect on hormones that control absorption, storage of fat and the burning of calories. Some probiotics have been found to make a person feel full for longer, burn more calories, reduce the absorption of fat and its storage, which leads to weight loss.
Other benefits of probiotics may include the following:
- They help to move the food through the gut. This is through affecting the nerves that control gut movement.
- Some probiotics have been linked to improving skin health and even providing a remedy to certain skin conditions.
- Probiotics promote vaginal health, urinary health, and oral health.
- The bacteria L. acidophilus has been found to cause a reduction of lactose intolerance.
- Improvement of acne, especially inflammatory acne.
- Help to reduce anxiety symptoms and control depression.
Possible Side Effects
Although the side effects of probiotics are rare, the most common side effects are bloating and flatulence. These symptoms disappear after a few weeks of continued use, failure of which medical assistance should be sought. However, it is advisable to reduce the dosage of probiotics consumed if bloating is experienced, and gradually increase while monitoring the effects. Thirst and constipation have been associated with consumption of S.boulardii. Diarrhea is also a possible side effect of probiotics.
Isolated studies have reported sepsis and endocarditis after ingestion of lactobacilli, S.boulardii and fungemia. There have also been reports of liver abscess. It is however proven that use of probiotics lowers the body’s immunity, causing immunosuppression, which predisposes people to systemic infections. In addition, opening S.boulardii capsules in presence of a patient with a central nervous catheter contaminates it and it becomes the source of entry of infection. However, the overall risk of developing sepsis from probiotics is very low.
Foods that are rich in probiotics may contain biogenic amines. These are nitrogen compounds that are formed when foods with proteins are fermented. They tend to excite the central nervous system, increase or decrease the amount of blood getting to the brain. These factors can lead to headaches and migraines.
Increase Histamine Levels
Histamine is a substance produced during an allergic reaction. It causes swelling and reddening of the area affected. Some probiotics produce histamine in the digestive tract, which might not be broken down by people who suffer from histamine intolerance. This may result in adverse effects on the digestive tract.
Increase Risk of Infection
In rare cases, taking probiotics may increase the risk of acquiring infections. However, this is only in people with suppressed immunity, those who have undergone recent surgery, or people who have had prolonged hospitalization.
Precautions When Taking Probiotics
Before consuming probiotics, it is advisable to first seek medical guidance, to avoid adverse effects. They are contraindicated in severely immunocompromised people and should be taken with caution in people with the short-bowel syndrome because of altered integrity. Since they have live bacteria, probiotics should not be taken with chlorinated water, as it may kill some of the bacteria. One should also be on an empty stomach for efficiency. People with central catheters, hypersensitivity to milk and with yeast allergy should not take probiotics.
Probiotics are useful bacteria and yeasts that are found in the digestive tract. They have multiple benefits depending on the dosage and strain. Their benefits include helping in digestion and improving the immune system. They have can also be used as treatment and as preventive measures against certain diseases and conditions that affect the digestive system. Their side effects are rare and mostly affect the digestive tract. It is advisable to first consult a physician before consuming probiotics. There also needs to be more research into the role of probiotics in treating other non gastrointestinal diseases.