All About Probiotics

15 Oct

By Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn2

What Are Probiotics?

According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), probiotics are defined as “living microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”1

The digestive tract alone contains roughly 100 trillion bacteria. To put that into perspective, we have 10 trillion cells that make up our bodies. In other words, the bacterial ecosystem that makes us who we are outnumbers our cells on the order of 10 to 1. From a DNA perspective, the genes of the microbes that inhabit our bodies exceed the amount of human DNA we each have by a factor of 100.

small world

Cani PD, Delzenne NM. Pharmacol Ther. 2011;130(2):202-212.(2)

Building and maintaining a healthy gut flora—which involves optimizing the balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria—is critical to digestive system health and function, overall health, immune system function, mental health and wellbeing, metabolism and weight management, respiratory (i.e., lungs) and integumentary (i.e., skin) systems, and more. When the gut flora is at a healthy balance, it provides immense support to digestive function, immune system, metabolism, skin health, mental wellbeing, and more.

However, when the gut is unbalanced and unhealthy, a number of issues can ensue. In fact, research suggests that having inadequate levels of healthy bacteria in your gut may contribute to over 170 different health issues, including weight gain and difficulty with weight management, as well as digestive-, skin-, and mental wellbeing-related issues. Along these lines, there are many common factors that can upset the balance of gut bacteria, including:

  • Aging
  • Environmental factors
  • Food choices (e.g., Certain artificial sweeteners like sucralose have been shown to reduce the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut and negatively alter the gut flora.11)
  • Stress
  • Medications (e.g., antibiotics12)
  • Smoking

In other words, a modern lifestyle—characterized by poor food choices, stress, and antibiotics, as well as factors outside of your control like nutrient-deplete soil, environmental toxins, and pollutants—can wreak havoc on the gut flora. The great news that there is a solution to an unhealthy gut, and you can begin restoring your gut health by supplementing with high-quality probiotics.

western living

Adapted from Schippa S, Conte M. Nutrients. 2014;6(12):5786-5805.(5)

This leads us into a discussion of how probiotics may be helpful. In the GI tract, probiotics serve a number of important functions, as they:

  • Support a balance of healthy bacteria in the gut
  • Keep pathogenic bacteria from settling and growing
  • Help digest and absorb nutrients and support a healthy GI tract
  • Help regulate and support a healthy immune system
  • Produce key nutrients (e.g., B & K vitamins, short-chain fatty acids)
  • Keep the system moving
  • Help metabolize chemicals and phytonutrients
  • Synthesize polyamines
  • Produce coagulation and growth factors
  • Promote a healthy balance of cytokines
  • Regulate secretion and use of intestinal mucus
  • Help regulate blood flow to internal organs
  • Provide gut barrier reinforcement
Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al.(1)

Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al.(1)

A Lesson in ProBiology

Symbiosis refers to a “mutually beneficial relationship between two different organisms living in close approximation.” Pertinent to the conversation on probiotics, humans have evolved intimate symbiotic relationships with gut microbes. In fact, human beings can be considered “superorganisms” as a result of their close symbiotic associations with the gut microbiota.3 Optimal human health and homeostasis revolves heavily on this symbiotic relationship, which entails maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.

Along these lines, dysbiosis refers to microbial imbalances on or within the body. In other words, dysbiosis describes the state of an unhealthy imbalance of bacteria in the gut flora, characterized by excessive levels of pathogenic bacteria, inadequate amounts of commensal and probiotic bacteria, and/or reduced bacterial diversity. Fundamentally, gut dysbiosis destroys the symbiotic relationship between humans and microbes; in fact, gut dysbiosis has been linked to numerous human health issues, including obesity.4–9

This is leads into why probiotics are critical to restoring gut health and fortifying the gut microbiome. By their very definition, probiotics are non-pathogenic, healthy bacteria that confer a clear beneficial effect on the host (i.e., humans). Supplementation with these commensal bacteria—which supply essential nutrients and defend against pathogens—helps restore a normal, healthy microbiome. Beyond restorative and reactive measures, probiotics help to prevent a normal, healthy individual from acquiring dysbiosis in the future.

In both cases, probiotics promote probiosis (i.e., an association of two organisms that enhances the life processes of both) and support and fortify the symbiotic relationship between humans and gut microbes.

The symbiotic relationship between humans and gut bacteria. Commensal bacteria supply the host with essential nutrients and defend the host against opportunistic pathogens. They are involved in the development of the intestinal architecture and immunomodulatory processes (i.e., healthy immune system function). On the other hand, the host provides the bacteria with nutrients and a stable environment.(10)

The symbiotic relationship between humans and gut bacteria. Commensal bacteria supply the host with essential nutrients and defend the host against opportunistic pathogens. They are involved in the development of the intestinal architecture and immunomodulatory processes (i.e., healthy immune system function). On the other hand, the host provides the bacteria with nutrients and a stable environment.(4)

What Does This Mean for You?

Building and maintaining a healthy gut flora—which involves optimizing the balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria—is critical to digestive system health and function, overall health, immune system function, mental health and wellbeing, metabolism and weight management, respiratory (i.e., lungs) and integumentary (i.e., skin) systems, and more. When the gut flora is at a healthy balance, it provides immense support to digestive function, immune system, metabolism, skin health, mental wellbeing, and more.

However, research suggests that having inadequate levels of healthy bacteria in the gut may contribute to over 170 different health issues (including weight gain and difficulty with weight management), and a modern lifestyle characterized by stress, processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, nutrient-deplete soil, and environmental toxins can wreak havoc on the gut flora and disrupt the natural balance of healthy bacteria.

With that in mind, I would consider a high-quality probiotic (recommendation: BioTrust Pro-X10) “foundational” for nearly everyone to support optimal levels of probiotics, establish and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, promote a healthy digestive system, and support a robust immune system. Along with probiotic supplementation, you can also fortify your gut by eating plenty of traditionally fermented foods:

  • Kefir, yogurt
  • Sauerkraut, pickles, and other properly fermented vegetables
  • Miso, tempeh
  • Kombucha
  • Red wine

Establishing optimal gut health is a balance between what’s there and what’s not there. Along those lines, it’s also advised to be mindful of and reduce exposure to the controllable factors (e.g., diet, stress, medications) that may negatively impact the composition of the microflora, gut health, and every other aspect of human health and function mentioned above.

References:

  1. Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014;11(8):506-514. doi:10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66.
  2. Cani PD, Delzenne NM. The gut microbiome as therapeutic target. Pharmacol Ther. 2011;130(2):202-212. doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2011.01.012.
  3. Li M, Wang B, Zhang M, et al. Symbiotic gut microbes modulate human metabolic phenotypes. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2008;105(6):2117-2122. doi:10.1073/pnas.0712038105.
  4. Martín R, Miquel S, Ulmer J, Kechaou N, Langella P, Bermúdez-Humarán LG. Role of commensal and probiotic bacteria in human health: a focus on inflammatory bowel disease. Microb Cell Factories. 2013;12(1):71. doi:10.1186/1475-2859-12-71.
  5. Schippa S, Conte M. Dysbiotic Events in Gut Microbiota: Impact on Human Health. Nutrients. 2014;6(12):5786-5805. doi:10.3390/nu6125786.
  6. Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature. 2006;444(7122):1022-1023. doi:10.1038/4441022a.
  7. DiBaise JK, Frank DN, Mathur R. Impact of the Gut Microbiota on the Development of Obesity: Current Concepts. Am J Gastroenterol Suppl. 2012;1(1):22-27. doi:10.1038/ajgsup.2012.5.
  8. Turnbaugh PJ, Hamady M, Yatsunenko T, et al. A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins. Nature. 2009;457(7228):480-484. doi:10.1038/nature07540.
  9. Zhang H, DiBaise JK, Zuccolo A, et al. Human gut microbiota in obesity and after gastric bypass. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009;106(7):2365-2370. doi:10.1073/pnas.0812600106.
  10. Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, et al. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science. 2013;341(6150):1241214. doi:10.1126/science.1241214.
  11. Abou-Donia MB, El-Masry EM, Abdel-Rahman AA, McLendon RE, Schiffman SS. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2008;71(21):1415-1429. doi:10.1080/15287390802328630.
  12. Jernberg C, Lofmark S, Edlund C, Jansson JK. Long-term impacts of antibiotic exposure on the human intestinal microbiota. Microbiology. 2010;156(11):3216-3223. doi:10.1099/mic.0.040618-0.
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