Contributor: Sarah Noyce
It’s common knowledge that if there is an imbalance in the gut the whole body can suffer. The gut determines the absorption of nutrients, your immune status, mental clarity and much more. Having suffered from chronic gut problems for around 15 years, I’m sad to report that probiotics aren’t on the radar for most GP’s and even gastrointestinal consultants don’t seem to mention them. In my opinion everyone should take probiotics (even children) whether you have a healthy gut and especially for those who have compromised health.
As far back as records take us, man has used the art of fermenting foods to improve the storage time and beneficial properties of foods. Fermented foods have a long history of nutritional and therapeutic benefits with many cultures around the world using some form of fermented foods to achieve longevity and maintain good health. Fermented foods such as yoghurt, fermented cheese, kefir, miso, tempeh and sauerkraut provide beneficial bacteria to the digestive system, as long as they haven’t been pasteurised.
There is a growing weight of scientific evidence that demonstrates fermented foods play a significant role in human health. It is generally accepted that the bacterial community resident in the human intestinal tract has a major impact on gastrointestinal function and thereby on human health and well-being.
Research shows that beneficial probiotic bacteria:
- Improve digestion
- Increase nutrient assimilation, including calcium
- Strengthen the immune system
- Increase resistance to yeast infection
- Assist absorption of magnesium, calcium and iron
- Manufacture B complex vitamins (biotin and vitamin K)
- Relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
- Detoxify toxins and chemicals in gut
- Maintain correct pH balance in vaginal ecosystem
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Reduce cholesterol in the blood
- Produce cancer or tumor suppressing compound
Dysbiosis (when the bad guys outnumber the good)
When the balance of bacteria is disrupted and harmful bacteria outnumber beneficial bacteria, this is called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is associated with increased gut permeability (leaky gut) and manifests in symptoms such as flatulence, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, vomiting, reflux and colic (in infants).
Warning signs of dysbiosis (bacterial imbalance) may include:
- Allergies and food sensitivities
- Frequent colds, flu or infections
- Difficulty losing weight, sugar/carbohydrate craving
- Frequent fatigue and poor concentration
- Frequent constipation or diarrhoea
- Acid reflux and other gut disorders
- Sleeping poorly and night sweats
- Painful joint inflammation, stiffness
- Bad breath, gum disease and dental problems
- Chronic yeast problems including thrush
- Acne, eczema, skin and foot fungus
- Extreme menstrual or menopausal symptoms
Causes of dysbiosis (things that kill good bacteria)
The number of ‘good’ bugs in your digestive system can be imbalanced by a wide range of factors including:
- Excessive stress (both psychological and physical)
- Exposure to radiation
- Drinking fluoridated / chlorinated water
- Poor diet (low fibre, high fat, processed foods)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Carbonated drinks
- Antibiotic use
- Contraceptive pills, steroidal & hormonal drugs
Probiotics and Antibiotics
Probiotic supplementation is critical for the prevention of antibiotic induced conditions (candida, urinary tract infections, and diarrhoea). Antibiotics destroy friendly gut bacteria along with the harmful bacteria. Taking probiotics after antibiotic therapy will restore gut flora to a healthy balance.
Probiotics and Autism
A medical study on probiotics for autism has proven so successful that the study ‘failed’, according to a New Scientist report on September 9, 2006. The study, by Prof Glenn Gibson at Reading University, UK, found that autistic children vastly improved their concentration and behavior when given probiotics. It involved 40 autistic children, aged 4 to 8, half of whom were given the probiotic bacteria L. Plantanum while the other half received a dummy ‘probiotic’. It was supposed to have been a blind study, where the participants were not told who were taking the actual probiotics and who were taking placebos or dummy medicine.
As part of this probiotics for autism study, parents were asked to record their children’s mood and behavior in a diary.
The results were too obvious. Parents whose autistic children were taking the actual probiotics saw such great improvements in their children’s behavior that they knew their children were taking the real thing. Problems arose during the ‘crossover’ point of this probiotics for autism study, where the two groups were supposed to switch medicines. When it came time for the families to switch, the families who had been receiving the actual probiotics refused to change over to the placebo.
As a result the study experienced an astronomical dropout rate that caused the study eventually to fail. Many of the parents whose children were taking the actual probiotics refused to make the switch as they wanted their autistic children to continue their improvement. One parent said it was “heartbreaking” to have to stop their child taking it.
Probiotics and allergies, eczema and dermatitis
Gastrointestinal microflora dominated by lactic acid bacteria is crucial for the maturation and proper functioning of human immune system. There is very promising evidence to recommend the addition of probiotics for prevention and treatment of allergic diseases, especially atopic dermatitis.
Clinical improvement in allergic rhinitis and eczema has been reported too. Studies have also shown a significant risk reduction for atopic eczema in children aged 2-7 years by the administration of probiotics during pregnancy and demonstrated the efficacy of probiotics in the treatment of pediatric atopic dermatitis.
Probiotics and Anxiety / Depression
Research suggests that bacteria in the GI tract can communicate with the central nervous system. Probiotics could be proposed as a novel strategy for psychiatric treatment of anxiety and depression.
Probiotics and Colon Cancer
Probiotics have the potential to impact significantly on the development, progression and treatment of colorectal cancer and may have a valuable role in cancer prevention. Studies point out the inverse relation between the consumption of probiotics and prebiotics in colon cancer diagnosis.
Probiotics and Cholesterol / Hypertension
Studies have shown that probiotics were found to improve certain metabolic disorders such as hypertension and that a diet rich in probiotics decreases total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol concentration in plasma for people with high, borderline high and normal cholesterol levels.
Probiotics and Infections
Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei have demonstrated antibacterial activity of against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Probiotics minimise the postoperative occurrence of infectious complications. They may be beneficial for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections and offer a potential new means to prevent urogenital infections and help maintain a healthy vaginal ecosystem.
Probiotics and IBS and other Gastrointestinal Diseases
Bacterial probiotic therapy shortens the duration of acute diarrhoeal illness in children. Probiotics may offer a safe and effective method to prevent travellers diarrhoea. They may be a safe and effective option for the relief of abdominal pain and bloating for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotic treatment is effective in maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis. It is probable that probiotics may be the future best treatment also for mild-to-moderate uncomplicated attacks of acute diverticulitis.
Probiotics and Leaky Gut / Food allergies
In modern society many of the beneficial necessary bacteria have been destroyed in the majority of people’s digestive tract due to food intolerances, certain drug ingestion, bacterial/viral infections, modern lifestyle and stress. By promoting proper digestion of foods, friendly bacteria aid in preventing food allergies. If digestion is poor, the activity of intestinal bacteria on undigested food may lead to excessive production of histamine, which triggers allergic symptoms.
This leads to digestive problems and leaky gut, where the gut lining becomes inflamed. This inflammation creates gaps in the gut wall, which allows macro food particles and other foreign microbes to enter the body and create an immune response, resulting in allergies, further exacerbating food intolerances and possibly triggering autoimmune diseases. Probiotics decrease intestinal permeability and improve the ability to effectively digest, process, and absorb nutrients from foods.
Probiotics have been proven to enhance immunity, improve gut infections and reduce production of toxic by-products in the bowel.
Probiotics and Liver Function
Short-term oral supplementation with probiotics was associated with restoration of the bowel flora and greater improvement in alcohol-induced liver injury.
Probiotics and Obesity
New findings explain how gut bacteria can be involved in the development, or control of, obesity and associated inflammation. The numbers of certain probiotic bacteria is inversely related to fat mass development, diabetes, and/or the low levels of inflammation associated with obesity. Future treatments for obesity may involve probiotics being trialed for obesity studies.
So, to conclude, there is overwhelming evidence that probiotic use is beneficial for far more than just gastrointestinal health. I have seen first-hand clear improvement with my 8-year-old son who had reflux and stomach pain as a baby and has suspected autism in childhood. Maybe more people should try a quality probiotic on a 3-month trial and see for themselves.