Our bodies are full of bacteria. Normally bacteria are thought of as disease causing agents. However, there are “good” bacteria that help keep us healthy. Our bodies continually attempt to maintain a balance of good and bad bacteria. Age, genetics, and diet may influence the balance of bacteria in our bodies. Stress, lack of sleep, antibiotic overuse, drug use, and environmental factors may also influence the balance of bacteria in our bodies. Unfortunately, an imbalance may predispose you to diseases including Crohn’s, irritable bowl, ulcerative colitis, obesity, and diabetes.
Probiotics are microorganisms, or live bacteria and yeasts, that assist primarily with digestion. The word probiotic means “promoting life”. These microorganisms promote life by maintaining a healthy digestive tract and immune system. Research indicates probiotic use may also have several other health benefits. Ongoing research indicates probiotics may promote the health of the reproductive tract, oral cavity, lungs, skin, and gut-brain axis. Probiotics may even prevent obesity and diabetes.
Probiotics should not be considered a replacement for medications treating certain conditions. However, daily consumption of probiotics may confer several benefits to those who utilize them. That being said, probiotics should be considered a compliment to rather than a replacement of prescribed medications. Specific health benefits related to probiotic use include:
Urinary health - Often, urinary and vaginal tact infections occurring in women are caused by bacteria common to the intestinal tract. These infections are easily treated with antimicrobial therapy, however, not without occasional side-effects. Studies suggest utilizing probiotics, specifically lactobacilli, may have a preventative role in urinary and vaginal tract infections.
Immunity and allergies - Believe it or not our gut plays a large role in our ability to fight off infections. Cells that help fight off infections and coordinate allergic reactions develop and mature in our gut. Data indicates probiotics may positively affect this development and maturation process and increase our ability to fight off and respond to infective processes. Probiotics may also improve our bodies ability to respond to common allergens such as pollen, hair, and mold.
Obesity and diabetes - A daily dose of probiotics was found to prevent weight gain and insulin resistance in lab mice. Daily consumption of certain probiotics increased the ability of these mice to process diets high in fat. Probiotics were also thought to be involved in appetite suppression and improve the ability of how these mice processed glucose. Although these results were observed in mice, researchers are optimistic the same benefits may be appreciated by humans. Researchers also believe the proper balance of bacteria in the gut may combat and prevent obesity.
Hypertension - 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with and take daily medications for hypertension. Hypertension, or elevated blood pressure, has significant negative effects on overall health. Data indicates daily consumption of probiotics may decrease blood pressure. Although the decrease in blood pressure were small, significant decreases were appreciated. Of note, the benefits appreciated were not directly caused by the probiotics but secondary to how probiotics process milk products.
- Reid G, Jass J, Sebulsky TM, McCormick JK. Potential Uses of Probiotics in Clinical Practice. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003. 16(4): 658-672.
- Sanders ME. Considerations for Use of Probiotic Bacteria to Modulate Human health. J. Nutr. 2000. 130: 384S-390S.