Probiotics are microorganisms essential for our existence. Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (1).
Probiotics confer many health benefits and deficiency of probiotics can lead to many diseases.
Luckily, probiotics can be easily obtained through diet e.g. milk, yogurt, and kefir. Probiotics can also be obtained via supplements which are cheap and easy options to quickly increase probiotics in your body.
The benefits of probiotics are listed below.
1) Probiotics are essential for digestive health
Certainly, probiotics are essential for our digestive health. Gastro-intestinal tract probiotics imbalance is associated with many diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea.
Chronic Helicobacter pylori infection is associated with peptic ulcer, chronic gastritis, and stomach cancer (2).
Probiotics combination of Saccharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus johnsonii La1 is effective in slowing down the infection but cannot completely eliminate H. pylori infection but the combination of these probiotics with standard therapies can improve chances of the complete elimination of H. pylori infection (3).
A study found that the use of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium-containing yogurt can greatly improve the elimination of residual H. pylori infection (4).
Antibiotics-associated diarrhea is caused by antibiotic therapy and the destruction of microbes in the gut. Clostridium difficile is increased in antibiotic-associated diarrhea (5).
Lactobacillus casei drinks are effective in reducing the occurrence of Clostridium difficile antibiotics-associated diarrhea in patients in intensive care units (6).
A meta-analysis of several studies show that the use of probiotics can significantly reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (7),
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) is a complex condition that includes ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD). The symptoms are stomach pain with watery and/or bloody diarrhea (8).
Research with commercially available VSL#3 cocktail (4 strains of Lactobacilli, 3 strains of Bifidobacteria, and one strain of Streptococcus salivarius subspthermophilus) and E. coli Nissle 1917 shows significant improvement in the prevention of IBD (9,10).
Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG has shown to be useful in therapy for ulcerative colitis. It was also useful in preventing relapse (11).
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another digestive system condition accompanied by bloating, stomach pain, constipation, and/or diarrhea (12).
A meta-analysis of several studies shows that a combination of many types of bacteria is beneficial for IBS compared to the use of only one strain (15).
Probiotics are helpful in reducing the symptoms of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel disease.
2) Probiotics can promote weight loss
Different types of bacterial probiotics work together for intestinal barrier function improvement (16).
The research shows that the antiobesity and weight loss effects of probiotics are limited to only some strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium(18).
For example, a randomized control study using a bacterial probiotic cocktail called Lab4P (Lactobacillus acidophilus CUL60, Lactobacillus acidophilus CUL21, Lactobacillus plantarum CUL66, Bifidobacterium bifidum CUL20, and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CUL34) showed a significant decrease in body weight in participants (19).
Another potential candidate for obesity control is Akkermansia muciniphila strains which constitute 3 to 5% of total bacteria in healthy individuals. The low levels of these probiotics are correlated with obesity and high levels are correlated with normal-weight individuals (20).
Current knowledge suggests that probiotics Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, and Bifidobacterium animalis could be beneficial in reducing fat and body weight (21).
Probiotics are important for weight loss and weight management. However, research shows that the impact of probiotics on obesity is bacteria type and strain-specific.
3) Probiotics are helpful in lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance is the inability of the digestive system to break down lactose into glucose and galactose due to a deficiency of enzymatic activity (22).
The symptoms of lactose intolerance are stomach pain, flatulence, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and flatulence after milk intake.
Research shows that probiotics can be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of lactose intolerance because they help with lactose breakdown by enzymatic activity.
A combination of Bifidobacterium longum BB536 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 + vitamin B6 can alleviate bloating and constipation in lactose-intolerant individuals (23).
Also, yogurt containing Bifidobacterium sp. and Lactobacillus acidophilus strains is tolerated by people with lactose intolerance (24)
The intake of Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus in yogurt can be beneficial in lactose intolerance due to the enzymatic activity to digest lactose (25).
A special cocktail of probiotics that included Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium longum, and Bifidobacterium infantis Streptococcus thermophilus significantly helped with lactose malabsorption symptoms (26).
Current studies so far show that milk fortified with probiotics can reduce lactose intolerance symptoms as well as increase milk digestion.
4) Probiotics can fight off allergies by aiding the immune system
Allergies affect people all over the world. There are several reasons for the development of allergic reactions.
There are more and more allergy cases every year, especially in western societies. Immune system dysfunction is one of the major reasons for allergies.
Difference strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are prime candidates for improvement in the immune system for the alleviation of allergies (27).
Atopic eczema is one of the most common types of infant allergy. Inefficient gut microbiota is associated with allergies of this kind. Low levels of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria in the gut are observed in children who developed allergies (28).
Therefore, Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria intake can be important for minimizing the incidence of allergies.
Research shows that probiotics have the potential to reduce allergies. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are crucial for gut microbiota and immunity to fight allergies
5) Probiotics can promote hair growth
Hair loss among men can be due to many factors such as genetics, hormonal imbalance, stress, and dementia.
Not many studies have investigated the effects of probiotics on hair growth but there is a potential in probiotics for hair growth.
Research in animals shows that probiotics can help with hair growth. Topical application of a fermented product from backryeoncho fruit (Opuntia ficus-indica var. sarboten), cow’s milk, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus promoted hair growth (29).
Another study showed that poly-γ-glutamic acid from Bacillus subtilis promoted hair growth in mice (30).
Kimchi and Cheonggukjang probiotics intake for up to 4 months improved hair count and thickness by increasing blood flow to the skull. No side effects e.g. diarrhea were observed in participants (31).
Although studies are limited, current knowledge suggests that probiotics can promote hair growth by improving blood flow to the skull.
6) Probiotics are important for brain health
Parkison’s disease is a complex neurodegenerative disease that leads to motor impairment, postural variability, and muscle stiffness. Gut-brain axis alternation has been implicated in Parkinson’s disease (32).
A novel probiotic cocktail SLAB51 consisting of 8 strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus showed potential to reduce the brain damage in Parkinson’s disease animal model (33).
Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus probiotics strain studies for Parkinson’s disease show that probiotics help with reducing Parkinson’s disease symptoms by:
Long-term probiotic intake has the potential to decrease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (35).
Alzheimer’s disease is another condition that affects the older population. Memory and thinking ability is severely affected in Alzheimer’s disease. The effects of probiotics on Alzheimer’s disease are tied to the gut-brain axis.
Research shows that cognitive deficit can be reduced by using bacterial strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (36).
The use of Clostridium butyricum supplementation significantly reduced cognitive dysfunction, Aβ accumulation, and the production of tumor biomarkers in mouse models (37).
A study on Alzheimer’s patients with a 90-day use of probiotics-based kefir improved cognitive function and reduction in inflammation, oxidative stress, and cell damage (38).
Probiotics are an essential part of the gut-brain axis. They are useful for the healthy brain because they reduce inflammation, oxidative stress and improve gut barrier function.
7) Probiotics can lower cholesterol levels
Probiotics can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and total cholesterol.
Research in animals shows that a combination of Bifidobacterium (B. longum, B. lactis, and B. breve) and Lactobacillus (L. reuteri and L. plantarum) lowered cholesterol and increased good cholesterol ( HDL) (39).
In another study, Lactobacillus plantarum AR113 and Lactobacillus casei pWQH01 used in animal showed a reduction in levels of LDL and total cholesterol levels (40).
In humans, consumption of probiotics yogurt can lower total cholesterol and LDL but fails to increase HDL levels (41).
Research shows probiotics are beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels. Taking probiotics containing yogurt can be beneficial.
8) Probiotics are good for your skin
Probiotics can be beneficial especially with inflammatory conditions such as acne and dermatitis.
Effects of intestinal-borne facial dermatoses characterized by erythematous papular-pustular rash can be mitigated by the oral intake of Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 preparations. This also resulted in a reduction of cytokine IL-8 and an increase in IgA levels in serum (42).
Daily intake of fermented milk containing Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus deceased symptoms of acne vulgari. When lactoferrin was added to the milk, the acne vulgari symptoms were greatly reduced (43).
Several studies are showing that probiotics help reduce the symptoms of atopic dermatitis.
Moreover, Lactobacillus plantarum IS-10506 is shown to be effective against atopic dermatitis (46).
Probiotics are good for the skin. There is a great potential in probiotics for reducing symptoms of acne vulgari and atopic dermatitis.
9) Probiotics reduce the risk of cancer
Probiotics are important in preventing tumor development because they keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy, enhance anti-inflammatory activity, delay tumor development and metastasis development (47).
Current research shows that probiotics inhibit tumors by helping to mount an anti-inflammatory response in the body (48).
One study identified 11 new probiotics that have antitumor potential because they aid the immune system to fight tumor development (51).
The research shows that probiotics prevent tumor development by keeping the gastrointestinal tract healthy, enhancing anti-inflammatory and promoting the immune system.
10) Probiotics are essential for oral health
Dental caries lead to demineralization of teeth enamel which is mostly caused by Streptococcus mutants (52).
Regular consumption of probiotics is essential to slow down the progression of dental caries (53).
A randomized control study shows that consumption of milk with the Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 strain significantly reduces the incidence of dental caries in children (54).
Another study with Streptococcus salivarius M18 supplementation in school children reduced dental caries, saliva acidity, and dental plaque (55).
Periodontal disease is caused by pathogens that find a place in the subgingival site, interfere with the immune system, and cause tissue damage (56).
Chewing gum with Lactobacillus reuteri strain showed decreased gingivitis symptoms i.e. reduction of gum bleeding and plaque development (57).
Chronic periodontitis patients showed an improvement in symptoms when they were treated with lozenges containing Lactobacillus brevis (58).
Halitosis or bad breath is caused by volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) produced by bacteria such as Fusobacterium nucleatum. Weissella cibaria shown to inhibit Fusobacterium nucleatum growth.
Gargle solution with Weissella cibaria reduced the production of hydrogen sulfide and methanethiol (59).
Oral mouthwash containing probiotics Streptococcus salivarius K12 considerably reduces VSC (60).
Oral health can be significantly improved by probiotics. Probiotics can help with dental caries, periodontal disease, and halitosis.
11) Probiotics are useful for diabetes management
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent diseases worldwide.
Gut microbiota can be helpful in the management of type 2 diabetes (61).
Probiotics are shown to control insulin secretion and some hormones in the intestine. Probiotics can also regulate liver cell fat accumulation (62).
Recently a novel strain called Acidophilus KLDS1.0901 was shown to improve glucose regulation, decrease insulin resistance and oxidative stress. Therefore has potential for type 2 diabetes management (63).
Bacterial strains that have the potential for type 2 diabetes include Lactobacillus paracasei 1F-20, Lactobacillus fermentum F40-4, and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis F1-7. These strains improved glucose uptake and lowered inflammatory indicators including TNF-α and IL-6 levels (64).
Yeast Saccharomyces boulardii has also shown promise in glucose control (65).
Current study points toward a high potential of probiotics in the management of type 2 diabetes. Especially the novel strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Taking regular probiotics will improve the chances of managing type 2 diabetes.
Probiotics are essential for our existence. Digestive health is the most important role of probiotics. Other functions include brain health, weight loss, diabetes, oral health, and preventing cancer.
Taking adequate probiotics from the diet is an easy way to get probiotics.
Probiotics supplements are also effective. They are a cheap and easy way to increase probiotics concentration in the body.