Promising studies on probiotics

 

Probiotic foods have existed since many centuries and are not new to human culture. Ancient civilizations have traditionally used probiotic foods such as yogurt, tempeh, kefir, miso, sauerkraut etc to improve gastrointestinal health, overall general well being due to the remarkable health benefits of probiotics. The most common species present in most probiotic foods and food / dietary supplements is bacterium Lactobacillus acidophilus.

 

Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria is available in many forms as dried preparations, liquid cultures of “live” bacteria, acidophilus milk, freeze dried powders, freeze dried granules, tablets, and lactobacillus acidophilus capsules.

 

Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria protect against disease causing bad pathogens by the following mechanism. The Lactobacillus acidophilus breaks down food in the gastrointestinal tract to release several substances such as lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. These byproducts create an environment that is not suitable for bad bacteria to survive. It is due to this reason probiotics are recommended over antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy all microorganisms and do not differentiate between bad and good bacteria. This creates an imbalance in the microflora of the intestine and leads to diarrhoea and other associated conditions. Probiotics helps to restore the delicate balance of microflora in the intestine and promotes gastrointestinal health.

 

Today many studies have been conducted to investigate the benefits of probiotics as a viable therapeutic agent in improving gut health and decreasing disease of the gastrointestinal tract. Some well  established benefits of probiotics include(1):

 

Decrease in the risk and severity of diarrhoea caused by rotavirus.

Reduced risk of traveller’s diarrhoea.

Reduction on the risk of relapsing of diarrhoea caused by Clostridium difficile.

Decrease in the risk of antibiotic associated diarrhoea in young children.

 

Studies on benefits of probiotics

Growing body of research on the benefits of probiotics have clearly placed probiotics as a remarkable functional food.

Healthy blood lipids

Many studies have demonstrated positive benefits of probiotics on blood lipids. In a meta-analysis of short term intervention studies it was found that fermented probiotic food products such as yogurt decreased the LDL cholesterol levels by 5% and total cholesterol by 4% (2). Although the researchers of the study concluded that more long term studies are required they did not rule out the benefit of probiotics on blood lipids.

 

In another study that analysed the cholesterol-lowering effect of probiotic yogurt in comparison with ordinary yogurt in mild to moderately hypercholesterolemic subjects revealed the beneficial effects of probiotics. The study revealed that consumption of probiotic yogurt caused a significant decrease in the serum total cholesterol levels. Lactobacillus acidophilus and B. lactis were the two probiotic bacterial strains that exhibited cholesterol lowering effect among patients with high blood cholesterol(3).

 

Healthy immunity in preterm infants

The intestinal flora of breast-fed infants is an important physiologic factor in the function of the gut and in the development of the immune system. The research was conducted to investigate whether a bovine milk formula supplemented with a prebiotic mixture from galactooligosaccharides and fructooligosaccharides can stimulate an intestinal flora similar to that of breast-fed infants. The data obtained indicated that the prebiotic mixture was able to stimulate the development of a microbial flora similar to that of breast-fed infants. The study concluded that based that it can be suggested that prebiotics may play a role as modulators of the postnatal development of the immune system(4).

 

The efficacy of probiotics in improving gut health and immune system cannot be understated. There is a strong demand for more studies in this field of nutrition due to the astounding health benefits of probiotics. As more studies emerge on the benefits of probiotics, and more data accumulates there is a likelihood that probiotics may be used in the area of clinical nutrition in preventing and treating infectious disorders, allergic conditions and as a complimentary therapy in many ailments. While following studies on probiotics it is important to consider the ones that are carefully conduced such as double-blind, placebo-controlled investigations which provides data that are strongly validated in order to document the specific efficacy of each individual organisms.

 

It is also important that probiotic supplements should be administered only after consultation with a health care provider despite their proven clinical efficacy.

 

References

 

  1. Jon A Vanderhoof; Probiotics: future directions; Am J Clin Nutr June 2001 vol. 73 no. 6 1152S-1155S
  2. Agerholm-Larsen L et.al; The effect of a probiotic milk product on plasma cholesterol: a meta-analysis of short-term intervention studies; Eur J Clin Nutr. 2000 Nov;54(11):856-60.
  3. Ataie-Jafari A et.al; Cholesterol-lowering effect of probiotic yogurt in comparison with ordinary yogurt in mildly to moderately hypercholesterolemic subjects; Ann Nutr Metab. 2009;54(1):22-7. Epub 2009 Feb 20.

Boehm G, Prebiotics in infant formulas; J Clin Gastroenterol. 2004 Jul;38(6 Suppl):S76

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