What are probiotics?
Simply put, probiotics are microorganisms which provide health benefits.
Probiotics are “good bacteria”
“Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. (FAO/WHO 2013)
The most common form of probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
When we talk about probiotics, the first thing that comes to our mind is our gut health. We know that probiotics are beneficial for maintaining gut health. So what exactly are the specific conditions under gut health and otherwise where probiotic work wonders?
Let’s take a look at it:
Constipation- Constipation can become a real trouble to some people. Luckily, probiotics are well known for alleviating digestive issues and there is evidence to support the use of multiple strains in relieving constipation.
Counter the side-effects of antibiotics- Certain medical conditions requires the usage of antibiotics. However, the antibiotics can have side effects on the gastrointestinal system by disrupting the gut-milieu. As a result, there can be issues like acid reflux, bloating, diarrhea etc. After the antibiotic course, it is important to balance the gut health. Probiotics are the ideal way of doing this. A course of probiotics after the antibiotic course can reduce the post-antibiotic gastrointestinal symptoms.
Weight loss and weight gain- there has been some promising research regarding probiotics for maintaining a healthy weight. Many studies have shown people who are overweight have different bacterial makeups than people who are thin. In one study, participants were fed high calorie and high fat diet. Half of these participants were given probiotics. Half of the participants who were on probiotics gained less weight and did not develop insulin resistance.
Diarrhea in children- There are many studies reported on the role of probiotics in the management of diarrhea in children. Most of these studies report beneficial effect of probiotics in reducing the incidences of diarrhea. A meta-analysis by Cochrane database systemic review on 63 studies on probiotics, with more than 8000 participants, 56 studies on infants and children, showed reduction in the duration of diarrhea and frequency of stool on second day of the intervention for diarrhea lasting more than 4 days.
Allergies- Seasonal allergies symptoms like runny nose, constant sneezing can make you feel irritated. These seasonal allergies have very less effect with over-the-counter medications. The role of probiotics in seasonal allergy is a matter of investigation and more research. In a 2017 study, individuals who took 1.5 billion CFU of a multi-strain probiotic 2 times daily had reduced seasonal allergy symptoms and better quality of life compared to those who took a placebo.
Depression and anxiety- It has been well known till now that the gut is associated with the brain via the gut-brain axis. Therefore, probiotics can have a major impact on anxiety and depression through the gut-brain axis. A 2016 double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that people who took the strains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum had significantly decreased scores on the Beck Depression Inventory.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)- People with chronic fatigue syndrome have elevated levels of inflammation and thus high C-reactive protein. Probiotics have an impact on lowering inflammation in the body and therefore can help people with chronic fatigue syndrome. A 2009 showed that multistrain of probiotics caused a significant improvement in neurocognitive function in those with CFS.
Probiotics show promising role in the management of many health conditions as discussed above. The impact of probiotics depends on the efficacy of the strain and the right dosage of the probiotic administered. Not all strains are efficacious in every condition. Choosing the right kind of strain and the right dosage for your health condition is the key.