Probiotics: Beyond Digestion - Probiotics
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Probiotics: Beyond Digestion

Most people associate probiotics with better digestion, since probiotics are taken to supplement the bacteria that live in the gut. But as scientists continue to reveal the importance of a healthy microbiome on overall health, the benefits of probiotics have expanded well beyond digestion to include the following. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of probiotics beyond digestion.

Immune Health[1]

Behind digestion, immunity is the second most popular use of probiotics, since about 70 percent of the body’s total number of immune cells reside in the gut. The research is vast. One recent analysis examining 20 published trials concluded that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics can cut the duration and severity of cold symptoms and lead to fewer missed days at work or school.

Specifically, Swedish researchers in one large study found that Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL9 (DSM 15312) and Lactobacillus paracasei 8700:2 (DSM 13434) strains, given at 1 billion CFUs per day, can drop common cold symptoms by about two and a half days. Another study examined the effects of a three-strain probiotic blend (Lactobacillus helveticus Rosell-52, Bifidobacterium bifidum Rosell-71 and Bifidobacterium infantis Rosell-33) on kids’ sick days. Researchers found that just 25.8 percent of the children who took the probiotics had a sick day, whereas 42.8 percent of the children who did not take the probiotics missed school.

According to a double blind, randomized, controlled trial, the intake of probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus gasseri (PA 16/8), Bifidobacterium longum (SP 07/3) and B. bifidum (MF 20/5) for at least 3 months significantly shortened common cold episodes by almost 2 days and reduced the severity of symptoms.

Weight Control[2]

Researchers know that overweight and thin people have very different gut bacteria populations, suggesting that bacteria may be a factor when it comes to obesity. In fact, when overweight people begin to lose weight, their gut bacteria starts to resemble that of thin people.
One probiotic strain in particular, Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055, was found to promote the body’s excretion of fat during bowel movements, instead of absorbing it. Put to the test, a study among 30 healthy Japanese adults found that five billion CFUs daily for just one week was enough to start reducing belly fat and promoting weight loss. Another study showed that when 28 healthy but overweight participants ate yogurt containing both Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus, all of them lost body fat. In fact, people who ate yogurt fortified with the L. amylovorus strain lost four percent body fat, a statistically significant figure, suggesting that gut microflora may increase metabolism.

Why? Researchers speculate that probiotics improve blood glucose and weight control by cooling inflammation and balancing the gut-derived hormones that regulate appetite.


The gut-brain axis is an emerging area of microbiome science, which suggests that the microbiota in the gut can impact what happens in the brain. According to one study[3], supplementing with probiotics can lead to less stress and anxiety, better memory and lower levels of cortisol in the morning. This research came on the heels of a British study that suggested that prebiotics may soothe anxiety.

Scientists speculate that the gut-brain axis is powered by the fact that gut cells make 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, along with other mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as GABA, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Skin Health

The skin, like the rest of the body’s organs, depends on nutrients to achieve peak performance. So, it makes sense that an unbalanced digestive system, which can deprive the entire body of nutrients, can also lead to dull and problematic skin. The good news is that emerging research shows that probiotics may have a role to play in skin health.

One study[4] randomized young women to receive either conventional yogurt or yogurt enhanced with Lactococcus lactis strain H61 for four weeks. Blood samples taken at the beginning and end of the trial measured skin hydration and elasticity, as well as sebum and melanin content. After four weeks, skin hydration among all women in the study increased. However, sebum content of the women who consumed the probiotic yogurt rose significantly, while the levels of the women who ate the conventional yogurt did not.

Heart Health

According to the American Heart Association, probiotics may help maintain healthy blood pressure[5], and according to the research, the positive effects from probiotics seemed to be greatest in those with elevated blood pressure. Researchers think that probiotics support healthy blood pressure levels by having other positive effects on health, like keeping cholesterol in check. Previous studies have shown that the probiotic strain L. reuteri, specifically, can support a healthy balance of good and bad cholesterol[6] by breaking up bile salts.



This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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What can probiotics do for your health?

Your gut comprises about 70% of your immune system and is critical for brain function, to balance body chemistry, and for converting nutrients into a usable form the body can absorb. When your microflora (gut bacteria) is imbalanced, your health suffers. Probiotics are important for replenishing and restoring microfloral balance. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are believed to be good for overall health, and specifically for digestive health. To help alleviate the symptoms and conditions that harmful bacteria can cause, we need to maintain our beneficial bacteria. Known as ‘friendly’ or beneficial bacteria, probiotics produce a variety of compounds, including natural lactic acids that help to inhibit the growth of the harmful bacteria, thereby preventing them from gaining a foothold and causing illness. Probiotics can be found naturally in some foods, in fermented drinks, and in supplements.


Do I need both a probiotic and a prebiotic? How do I take them?

Yes. Supplementing with probiotics will re-introduce bacteria into the gut. However, this effort is futile without prebiotics, which feed the bacteria and ensure that they flourish. If you are new to probiotics, try supplementing every day to establish a healthy colony. But once it’s up and running, supplementing with prebiotics is critical to keeping bacteria healthy over time. Maintain health by supplementing with both prebiotics and probiotics regularly in order to keep the existing bacteria population intact.


When and how should I be taking probiotics?

It’s easy to assume that you only need to take probiotics when you’re feeling out of balance (i.e. when you’re overly stressed, you’ve just finished a round of antibiotics or you’re feeling run down). However, we recommend daily probiotic and prebiotic supplementation (and loading up on probiotic-rich foods) in order to keep your gut bacteria healthy ahead of any issues that arise and to support long-term health overall. Want to get the most out of your supplement? Some research shows that probiotic survival was best when taken 30 minutes before or with foods or beverages that had fat content. The time of day isn’t as relevant as making sure you’re consuming your probiotic supplement with food.


How do probiotics support the immune system?

Numerous studies have demonstrated that probiotics supplements that include strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, can help support the immune system and reduce the risk of infections, such as respiratory infections (cold, flu) and ear infections. There are several ways in which probiotics do this. They enhance the innate immune system and modulate inflammation; they compete with and block harmful bacteria from adhering to the cells in the digestive tract; they enhance the gut barrier and they stimulate the protective immune responses from the gut. There is also evidence that Lactobacillus probiotics may enhance the protective effects of vaccination against influenza, basically boosting the efficacy of the flu shot.


Can probiotics improve your mood or reduce anxiety?

It is true that probiotics (the beneficial bacteria in our gut) produce important substances, including neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as the happy hormone because it is involved in regulating our mood. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and anxiety. For that reason, drugs and products that work to elevate serotonin levels are found to be helpful in treating these conditions. There is mounting research to suggest that probiotics may play a role in improving mood. More research is need to confirm whether certain probiotics can be beneficial in treating depression, but for now it appears that this may be one side benefit of taking probiotics.