Our gut is a complex ecosystem filled with various strains of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other living organisms.
There are, in fact, more ‘non-human’ cells than total cells in our body, meaning that we are technically more bacterium than human!1
The gut microbiome has been shown to play a vital role in overall health, from weight to mood, to inflammation and immune response.2 Studies are published daily, in support of the gut and its importance in maintaining a happy and healthy life.
Probiotics have taken the spotlight in recent years as a ‘must have’ when looking to boost health. They can be sourced from cultured food products and are either sold in food form, supplementation, or packaged into skincare.3
Probiotics are live microorganisms that replicate healthy bacteria strains already present in the human microbiome.4
They are designed to help populate the gut with beneficial bacteria strains, to improve the ecology of the microbiota, most notably within our large intestine where most of our bacteria resides.5
Read on to learn about how probiotics can benefit your health.
Top 8 Health Benefits of Probiotics
1) Promotes Healthy Digestion
Probiotics have been shown to reduce infections within the GI tract, due to an increase of healthy bacteria competing for nutrition sources and effectively ‘starving’ pathogens of available nutrients.6
Probiotics have also been studied in the prevention and treatment of diarrhoea. Beneficial strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) and Saccharomyces boulardii may reduce symptom severity and duration.7
Protein is required for growth and metabolism within the body. Probiotics help to release enzymes related to protein synthesis in the gut which helps increase protein digestion and utilisation throughout the body.8
2) Strengthens the Immune System
The mucosal lining of the gut may also be affected by probiotic use.
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, in particular, strengthen the gut lining and protect pathogens from entering the gut and escaping the gut and entering the bloodstream. ‘Foreign’ particles entering the bloodstream may cause the immune system to hyper respond.9
Probiotics may also reduce the reoccurrence of vaginal, urinary tract infections and also protect against infection of the digestive tract by clostridium difficile (an intestinal infection that causes diarrhoea).10
3) May Support Heart Health
As mentioned, our gut microbes affect the permeability of our intestinal lining.
If the gut lining is impaired, waste products produced by gut microorganisms escape the gut and enter the bloodstream.
This has been linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis, heart failure, and hypertension.11
Metabolites from gut microbiota in the intestines communicate to other organs in the body via metabolites they produce. These metabolites have been shown to affect inflammation processes in the body linked to cardiovascular health.12
4) Weight Management
Short-chain fatty acids, produced by the fermentation of carbohydrates by bacteria in the gut, and low-grade inflammation from pathogenic bacteria were found to influence metabolism and obesity. 13
Probiotic strains Lactobacillus gasseri SBT 2055, Lactobacillus rhamnosus ATCC 53103, and the combination of L. rhamnosus ATCC 53102 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 may reduce adipose (belly) fat, body weight and manage weight gain.14
The microbiome can also affect energy metabolism and central appetite and food reward signalling, shown to significantly affect body fat distribution and overall body weight.15
5) Increases Nutrient Absorption
Up to 90% of nutrient absorption occurs within the intestines.
A key issue with gut dysbiosis (an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract) is poor micronutrient absorption rates. Probiotics help to Improve the bacterial and acidic terrain in the gut, to help improve nutrient digestion and absorption.16
The microvilli, which are microscopic finger-like projections lining the gut walls are where nutrient absorption and distribution occurs. Probiotics help to strengthen transport proteins responsible for sending nutrients out to the body from the digestive tract to be utilised.17
6) Improves Skin Health
Pathogenic microbe populations are higher in the stool samples of those with chronic skin conditions.
Probiotic supplementation has been linked to improvements in:
- Atopic dermatitis
- Skin allergies and hypersensitivity18
The overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut; also known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), can affect the skin by waste produced from bad bacteria entering the bloodstream and being detoxified through the skin.19
Probiotics have even been shown to speed up wound healing and reduce scarring through signalling immune cells responding to the damaged area of skin.20
7) Acts as an Antioxidant
Probiotics in supplementation or food form have been studied for their antioxidant effects.
Other benefits are a reduction in oxidative damage to cells and a positive impact on antioxidant enzymes within the body.21
Lactic acid from Kimchi, a Korean dish of spicy pickled cabbage, may reduce superoxide dismutase; a powerful cell-damaging free radical.22
8) May Improve Mental Health
The gut-brain axis has been described as the bidirectional signalling between gut microbes and the brain, with gut dysbiosis potentially increasing the risk of many mood disorders.23
Pathogenic microbes have been studied for their inflammatory effects on the body including the central nervous system. Probiotics may, therefore, prove an effective natural remedy for anxiety and depression.24
Why Take A Probiotic Supplement?
Probiotics are essentially sourced from fermentable food sources, however, there are notable benefits to consider when opting for a probiotic supplement:
Supplementation is generally more potent than food sources, therefore a higher dose can be administered with ease.
Intake and specific bacterial strains can be tracked more effectively than in a food source.
Temporary gastrointestinal symptoms may occur when starting probiotic supplementation, such as bloating, gas, and abdominal discomfort.25 The change in the ecology of the microbiome and introduction of bacteria may induce changes within the gut and cause temporary side effects.
Start with a low dose and gradually increase over several days, to allow the environment in the microbiota to adjust. If any gastrointestinal symptoms continue after seven days, please consult your GP.
- NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body | National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Culturing the human microbiota and culturomics - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Probiotics: What You Need To Know | NCCIH (nih.gov)
- Role of Probiotics in Human Gut Microbiome-Associated Diseases - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Diversity, metabolism and microbial ecology of butyrate-producing bacteria from the human large intestine - PubMed (nih.gov)
- The impact of probiotic on gut health - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Probiotics for Prevention and Treatment of Diarrhea - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Influence of Probiotics on Dietary Protein Digestion and Utilization in the Gastrointestinal Tract - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Probiotics: use in allergic disorders: a Nutrition, Allergy, Mucosal Immunology, and Intestinal Microbiota (NAMI) Research Group Report - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Health benefits of taking probiotics - Harvard Health
- Dietary metabolism, the gut microbiome, and heart failure - PubMed (nih.gov)
- The Gut Microbiome and its Role in Cardiovascular Diseases (nih.gov)
- The Role of Probiotics on the Microbiota: Effect on Obesity - PubMed (nih.gov)
- The development of probiotic treatment in obesity: a review - PubMed (nih.gov)
- The microbiota-gut-brain axis in obesity - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Can prebiotics and probiotics improve therapeutic outcomes for undernourished individuals? - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Physiology of Intestinal Absorption and Secretion (nih.gov)
- Health effects of probiotics on the skin - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Efficacy of Using Probiotics with Antagonistic Activity against Pathogens of Wound Infections: An Integrative Review of Literature (nih.gov)
- Probiotics as potential antioxidants: a systematic review - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Isolation of Lactic Acid Bacteria Showing Antioxidative and Probiotic Activities from Kimchi and Infant Feces - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Brain-Gut-Microbiota Axis and Mental Health - PubMed (nih.gov)
- The gut microbiota and mental health in adults - PubMed (nih.gov)
- Probiotics - Health Professional Fact Sheet (nih.gov)