There are many health benefits of probiotics and there is no doubt that food that contains plenty of lactic acid bacteria is good for our health.
But it is vital to understand that one probiotic does not work equally well against all disease.
If you take only one idea away from this it is that no single probiotic helps all problems. Scientific studies show that only a few strains have been PROVEN to cure or help with individual diseases.
However lactic acid bacteria in general are good for us.
So how do probiotics stack up against various diseases such as cancer and infections?
The following list of health benefits of probiotics have all been clearly established in various studies.
We'll look at each one of these in more detail below.
The eating of Lactobacilli such as some strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus has been shown to reduce the amount of cancer causing nitrates in both urine and faeces.
Evidence that the bacteria in the intestinal tract is intrinsically linked with overall health, including cancer risk, is emerging.
These good bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract can be influenced by the foods that we eat. Taking probiotics (in food or supplements) prebiotics (indigestible plant food) polyphenols or synbiotics can effect the numbers and types of bacteria and have been reported to reduce colon cancer risk experimentally.
Microorganisms also have the ability to generate bioactive compounds from parts of the food we eat. Some of these have experimentally shown they can retard cancers.
There exists a complex and dynamic interrelationship between the intestinal bacteria and colon cancer risk, and this can be modified by diet.1
Many probiotics such as the one found in Activia yogurt cure constipation (but read the reviews of Activia first because many folk have found that it gives a violent herx reaction and in effect "over-cured" their constipation - if you see what I mean!)
Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, the strain of probiotic found in Align is another which helps with consitipation. It also, conversely, will help with diarrhea. I had excellent results with Align when I took it whilst on a course of antibiotics.
One study showed good results for a yogurt containing strains of Lactobacillus plantarum5. I don't think at present there is such a yogurt made commercially but possibly you could obtain a similar benefit by eating yogurt and taking a supplement containing L plantarum. This particular probiotic is so good for general gut health anyway and has many fans amongst IBS sufferers.
Benefits of eating yogurt include it ability to help with lactose intolerance. Yogurt - both plain and flavored - that contains the two standard "starter" bacteria, Streptococcus themophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus will likely help if you are lactose intolerant.
Plain kefir is also of help with lactose maldigestion or lactose intolerance.3 Flavored kefir is not - perhaps the fruits used in flavoring affected the result.
Long term use of Enterococcus faecium M-74 probiotic strain was associated with a reduction of serum cholesterol concentration.2 This reduction was achieved mainly due to a fall in LDL cholesterol, as no significant alterations was seen in HDL and triglycerides.
The health benefits of probiotics is proven with both vaginal and urinary tract infections with several strains having established conclusive proof whilst many more have anecdotal evidence.4
Over the last hundred years, we have moved away from traditional methods of harvesting and preserving foods and this has substantially lessened the number of good bacteria we receive through our food.
By taking a probiotic supplement or by eating more of the traditionally fermented foods such as saukerkraut and yogurt we can help to reestablish a healthy and diverse gut microbiota. This is the basis of good health.
In test tube studies, E coli was highly suppressed by Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG found in Culturelle Probiotic, Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12,and Bifidobacterium longum 46.6
Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (found in Tu Zen) and Lactobacillus paracasei 8700 were highly effective against Salmonella enterica.6
Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 , Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 and Bifidobacterium longum 46 were effective against Shigella sonnei.6
L paracasei, L rhamnosus and L plantarum strains showed some blocking activity against Helicobacter pylori.6
When two medical experts looked at the evidence of health benefits of probiotics in the USA, assessing the number and quality of the various studies, they found that clinical studies supported the use of probiotics for the following conditions:7
Did you see how often Lactobacillus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii crop up in that list? You can buy this wonderful probiotic from Amazon - Culturelle Probiotic.
UK residents can obtain it from their local Amazon Lactobacillus GG.
They believed there was SOME evidence to support the following:7
You can see that even the medical experts don't always agree on the health benefits of probiotics but there is certainly strong eveidence to support there use for many health problems.
1. Davis CD, Milner JA. Gastrointestinal microflora, food components and colon cancer prevention. J Nutr Biochem. 2009 Oct;20(10):743-52. Epub 2009 Aug 27.
2. Hlivak P, Odraska J, Ferencik M, Ebringer L, Jahnova E, Mikes Z. One-year application of probiotic strain Enterococcus faecium M-74 decreases serum cholesterol levels. Bratisl Lek Listy. 2005;106(2):67-72.
3. Steven R. Hertzler, Shannon M. Clancy MS. Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 103, Issue 5, May 2003, Pages 582-587.
4. Reid, G, Bruce, A.W, Fraser, N, Heinemann, C, Owen, J, Henning, B (2001) Oral probiotics can resolve urogenital infections. FEMS Immunol. Med. Microbiol. 30, 49?52.
5. Higashikawa F, Noda M, Awaya T, Nomura K, Oku H, Sugiyama M. Improvement of constipation and liver function by plant-derived lactic acid bacteria: A double-blind, randomized trial. Nutrition. 2009 Jul 21. [Epub ahead of print]
6. Hutt P, Shchepetova J, Loivukene K, Kullisaar T, Mikelsaar M. Antagonistic activity of probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria against entero- and uropathogens. J Appl Microbiol. 2006 Jun;100(6):1324-32.
7. Jon A. Vanderhoof, Rosemary Young. Probiotics in the United States. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2008;46:S67-S72.