Probiotics are known for their amazing benefits for the human body. In particular, they promote a healthy intestinal flora and prevent a number of diseases.
Even if you’ve never used probiotics, you’ve probably heard of them. These dietary supplements can have many positive effects on health, as they contain living microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts that support the healthy bacteria in the intestine.
Benefits of probiotics
Probiotics promote gut health by inhibiting the growth of harmful organisms, protecting the intestinal wall, and restoring the intestinal flora after an illness or drug intake such as antibiotics. They support the immune system, but also the health of the mouth, skin, and psyche, although scientific evidence for this is still limited.
Some of the living microorganisms in probiotic supplements are also contained in naturally fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Correlations have been found between these foods and a reduction in blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and body weight. If you do not eat fermented foods regularly, you should consider taking probiotics.
1. Prevent and treat tourist and infectious diarrhea
Probiotics show great efficacy in preventing traveler’s diarrhea. This form of diarrhea, which is rampant in developing countries, is linked to infection with a pathogenic strain of Escherichia coli.
They are also effective in the treatment of infectious diarrhea. In addition to rehydration, probiotics and lactic acid bacteria help relieve acute diarrhea of viral origin. Different strains of probiotics help reduce the chances of getting infectious diarrhea. And this, as well in the child as in the adult.
Lactic acid bacteria also have the effect of reducing the duration of diarrhea when it occurs. Associations between different probiotics have also been shown to be highly effective in infants.
2. Prevent and treat constipation
The results of several studies show that strains of Lactobacillus Casei, Bifidobacterium Lactis, and Escherichia coli improve stool frequency and consistency in adults. For children, these effects are mainly observed with the strain of Lactobacillus Casei. As we know, probiotics improve and accelerate intestinal transit. They acidify the intestine, which increases its peristalsis. With probiotics, it is possible to prevent and treat constipation.
3. Relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
The effects of probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome are of great interest to researchers and several studies have been carried out on this topic. Precisely, the most recent results show that probiotics improve the condition of patients. They act on the intensity and frequency of the symptoms of the disease: flatulence, abdominal pain, bloating… And this, because of their regulatory action on intestinal transit.
To this extent, lactic acid bacteria considerably improve the quality of life of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. These positive results were obtained with different strains of probiotics as well as with mixtures of lactic acid bacteria.
4. Treating Helicobacter pylori infections
Helicobacter pylori infections are common. They are the cause of the majority of peptic ulcers and gastritis. The meta-analyses of studies conducted on the efficacy of probiotics in this regard are unanimous. Lactic acid bacteria associated with triple therapy can increase the chances of recovery by 5 to 15%.
In these meta-analyses, it also appears that lactobacilli (probiotics from fermented milk) increase the success rate of conventional treatments. They also reduce their undesirable effects.
Additionally, the authors of a meta-analysis published in 2007 show that probiotics in combination with antibiotics make it possible to eliminate the bacteria.
5. Prevent recurrence in case of pouchitis
Pouchitis refers to chronic inflammation of the ileal pouch. It is often the consequence of surgical treatment for ulcerative colitis. The results of the various clinical trials carried out on patients with recurrent pouchitis show that a preparation based on different strains of probiotics makes it possible to prevent relapses. It also helps to lengthen the period of remission.
6. Boost the immune system with probiotics
Results from clinical and experimental studies show that interactions between probiotics and the immune system are not limited only to the digestive system. This is because probiotics also stimulate the production of antibodies specific to the human body. For example, probiotic supplements have been shown to offer mild, but significant protection against various respiratory system infections. By providing a regulatory action on immunity, probiotics reduce the intensity of allergic rhinitis, especially in children.
Finally, they have a definite effect on improving the microbiota, whose condition is so valuable to the overall health of the body.
7. Prevent complications from antibiotic treatments
To relieve patients with diarrhea and infection, it is common to use antibiotics. A meta-analysis published in 2006 shows that the consumption of probiotics reduces the risk of diarrhea associated with taking antibiotics. More than thirty scientific studies, including more than three thousand patients, are grouped together in this meta-analysis. The researchers found that probiotics reduce the risk of diarrhea associated with taking antibiotics as well as the risk of diarrhea associated with taking Clostridium difficile.
Other meta-analyses already confirm these results. Thus, certain combinations of probiotics and different strains may be effective in this context.
8. Prevent and treat vaginal infections
An imbalance of the vaginal flora provides a favorable environment for the proliferation of bacteria, especially those causing a vaginal infection (vaginitis). It is not always easy to prevent this type of infection. As research shows, vaginitis is often caused by bacterial vaginosis.
In some cases, topical use of probiotics (lactobacilli) may be more effective than antibiotics prescribed by mouth. Likewise, antibiotics are very effective in combination with dietary supplements of probiotics.
For yeast infections (Candida albicans), an equally common cause of vaginal infection, the use of probiotics for prevention and treatment is just as beneficial.
9. Prevent atopic eczema in children at risk
Recently, several scientific studies have looked at the effects of probiotics on atopic eczema, especially in children at risk of suffering from it. Several strains of lactic acid bacteria show an interesting preventive effect. Likewise, these strains can reduce the incidence of eczema in children at risk.
10. Prevent atopic eczema in children at risk Prevent relapses of ulcerative colitis
Little is known about the causes of ulcerative colitis. Some studies have looked at the use of probiotics to treat this disease. A meta-analysis concluded in 2010 that probiotics are no more effective than conventional therapy in treating the active phase of this disease. However, certain strains of probiotics can be useful. They act on the prolongation of the remission phase of ulcerative colitis. We can therefore use probiotics to prevent relapses in this context.
Can you take probiotics on an empty stomach?
Some probiotics manufacturers recommend taking the preparation on an empty stomach, others recommend taking it during the meal. Although it is difficult to measure in the body how viable bacteria are, there are studies that suggest that Saccharomyces Boulardii bacteria survive, regardless of whether they are taken with meals or not.
On the other hand, Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria survive better if taken half an hour before eating. But it is probably more important to always take them at the same time than with or without food. According to one study, after a month of taking probiotics, positive changes in the intestinal microflora were observed, regardless of whether they were taken with meals or not.
What to take probiotics with
The microorganisms in probiotics are tested to ensure that they survive under various conditions, both in the stomach and intestines. But it does matter if you take probiotics with certain foods. According to one study, the chances of survival of the microorganisms in probiotics were better when the preparation was taken together with oatmeal or skimmed milk than only with water or apple juice.
According to this study, a little fat would improve the survival of the bacteria in the intestine. Lactobacilli survive better together with sugar or carbohydrates since they are dependent on glucose in an acidic environment.
Different dosage forms
You can take probiotics in different dosage forms, such as capsules, lozenges, powder, or liquid. They are also found in various foods such as yogurt, fermented milk, chocolate, and sauerkraut. Most probiotic bacteria must be resistant to digestive juices and enzymes before they can settle in the small intestine.
Probiotics in capsules, tablets or yogurt often survive the stomach acid better than powder, drinks, or other probiotic food, regardless of the time of ingestion.
Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, and enterococci are more resistant to stomach acid than other types of bacteria. Most lactobacillus strains originate in the human digestive tract and are resistant to stomach acid on their own.
Choosing quality probiotics
Research shows that 100 million to 1 billion probiotic microorganisms must reach the gut alive in order to bring health benefits. Since probiotic bacteria can die commercially during storage, it is important to buy a good product that guarantees at least one billion live crops; this is often indicated on the commodity label as CFUs (Colony Forming Units).
To ensure quality, you should consume the probiotics before the expiration date and store them according to the instructions on the label. Some species can be stored at room temperature, others belong in the refrigerator.
Choosinf the right probiotics for you
With certain diseases, it may be advisable to take a certain strain of bacteria, abstain from another, or ask a doctor for advice. According to experts, most people benefit from Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. In particular, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces Boulardii can reduce the risk of diarrhea due to antibiotic intake, while the E. Coli strain Nissle 1917 can help with chronic intestinal inflammation ulcerative colitis.
In addition, probiotics with lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, and Saccharomyces Boulardii seem to relieve constipation, irritable bowel discomfort, and various types of diarrheas in some people.
Side effects of probiotics
Probiotics usually do not cause serious side effects in healthy people. However, they can cause slight discomfort, such as bloating and nausea. This usually improves after a while, or if you take the probiotics in the evening.
If you are taking probiotics to prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea, you may be wondering if the antibiotics also kill the probiotic bacteria. However, the strains specially bred against antibiotic-related diarrhea are not attacked. Remember that you can safely take antibiotics and probiotics at the same time.
If you are taking other medications or supplements, it is advisable to discuss possible interactions with a doctor. The reason for this is that probiotics can increase the effectiveness of these medications.
Cassidy is a certified dietician with a focus on patients suffering with diabetes. She has more than 10 years of experience, working with patients of different background. She writes health-related article for the Scientific Origin.