Because we are more bacteria than human, it should come as no surprise that probiotics benefit more than just digestive health. Studies show that these beneficial bacteria can also have head-to-toe effects. Here is just a sampling of what scientists know so far:
Allergies: Emerging evidence suggests that probiotics may help prevent and even treat seasonal allergies like hay fever and environmental allergies to things like dust mites. Researchers believe that probiotics can help allergy sufferers by modulating the immune system and limiting the release of inflammatory chemicals involved in the allergic response. Most of the research for probiotics for allergies has been done on Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, showing that these probiotics can help with prevention and the reduction of allergy symptoms.
Brain Health: Research shows that the gut and brain are connected via a partnership called the gut-brain axis. This suggests that the microbiota in the gut can impact what happens in the brain. One clinical trial published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that Alzheimer’s patients who drank milk made with four probiotic species for 12 weeks scored better on a test to measure cognitive impairment compared with those who drank regular milk. Another study in the journal Gastroenterology found that women who ate yogurt with a mix of probiotics twice a day for four weeks were calmer when exposed to images of angry and frightened faces compared with a control group.
Heart Health: According to the American Heart Association, probiotics may help to maintain healthy blood pressure, especially in those already diagnosed with hypertension. Probiotics may also help to keep cholesterol in check. Some studies show that one probiotic specifically – L. reuteri – can support a healthy balance between good and bad cholesterol by breaking up bile salts. But these benefits may just be the tip of the iceberg. Early findings in the journal Gut Microbes suggests that probiotics may also boost vascular function and may even improve cardiac remodeling in the heart.
Immunity: Behind digestion, immunity is the second most cited reason people take probiotics. This makes sense because about 70 percent of the body’s total number of immune cells reside in the gut. One analysis of 20 published trials concluded that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics can significantly cut the duration and severity of cold symptoms and lead to fewer missed days at work or school. According to another double blind, randomized, controlled trial in the journal Vaccine, participants who took a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium bifidum for at least three months significantly shortened their colds by almost two days and reduced the severity of symptoms.
Oral Health: High sugar intake, as well as poor oral hygiene, are the primary contributors to halitosis (bad breath) as well as periodontal disease. A growing number of studies suggest that certain species of Lactobacillus can offer benefits for oral health and play a role in preventing and treating oral infections, dental caries, periodontal disease, oral candidiasis (thrush) and halitosis. Research suggests that probiotics reduce the levels of pathogenic bacteria in the oral cavity, reducing inflammation and producing substances (lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide) that have antimicrobial effects. A review of 12 randomized clinical trials concluded that probiotics can be beneficial for the maintenance of oral health, due to their ability to decrease the number of oral pathogens.
Skin Health: The skin is your largest organ and home to numerous microbes that keep it healthy. But it’s also exposed to a constant onslaught of physical, chemical, bacterial, and fungal challenges. Studies have shown that probiotics have the potential to help with a number of skin irritations and discomforts. For example, during one randomized, placebo-controlled trial of more than 1,200 pregnant women and their babies, those infants exposed to a probiotic supplement before or after birth experienced considerably less eczema than those in the placebo group.
Apart from the digestive benefits that probiotics provide, you can see that they offer a great deal of other health advantages too. Try adding a probiotic to your daily routine and reap the benefits in other areas of your body!
- “The Good Gut” Healthy Living Guide, FreshLife Media, July 2019