In recent years, probiotics have become one of the most popular nutritional supplements. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that have been shown through various studies to effectively prevent and improve various conditions, such as balancing gut microbiota and enhancing gastrointestinal function . The balance of human gut microbiota is particularly crucial, as a healthy gut has been proven to boost immunity and overall well-being .
Different health needs require different types of probiotic supplementation. Various types of probiotics may yield different effects. For instance, if a specific strain of lactobacillus is helpful in preventing a certain ailment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another strain of lactobacillus or a different bifidobacterium will have the same effect . Therefore, choosing the right probiotic strains can better cater to the diverse health needs of individuals.
What are probiotics, and how do they help improve our health?
“Probiotic” is a term derived from Latin, meaning “for life” . In 1965, scientists used the term “probiotic” for the first time to describe a living organism that secretes substances promoting the growth of another organism. Therefore, microorganisms that produce beneficial substances to encourage the growth of other bacteria are known as probiotics. Probiotics encompass all “beneficial bacteria” that assist in maintaining gut microbiota balance and improving gastrointestinal function.
Commonly encountered probiotic species include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Bacillus, and Streptococcus. Probiotics have been proven to ameliorate a wide range of clinical conditions, from infantile diarrhea, necrotizing enterocolitis, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and Helicobacter pylori infections to cancer, female urinary tract infections, and surgical infections .
In general, probiotics can be obtained through consuming yogurt and other fermented foods, as well as nutritional supplements .
The 6 Benefits of Probiotics
1. Improving Gastrointestinal Function and Stabilizing Gut Microbiota
Overall, probiotics assist the body in inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and promoting the growth of beneficial gut microbiota, thereby regulating gut stability and promoting intestinal health .
Studies have found that the use of probiotics is beneficial for the treatment and prevention of childhood diarrhea. Strains such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Saccharomyces boulardii can significantly reduce hospitalization time and prevent the progression of infectious diarrhea . Some individuals, particularly children on long-term antibiotic treatment, are prone to antibiotic-associated diarrhea or infections with Clostridium difficile.
Research suggests that probiotic supplementation can significantly reduce the occurrence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and C. difficile infections, while also moderating the duration of diarrhea  .
2. Enhancing Immune Function
One of the roles of probiotics is to regulate the body’s immune response. Research has shown that probiotics can modulate both systemic and mucosal immune cells as well as the function of intestinal epithelial cells, thereby regulating the immune system . Additionally, a study involving infant probiotic supplementation with strains like Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus helveticus found that a healthy gut microbiota is crucial for infant gut health and immune system function, which may impact overall health in the future.
Therefore, giving infants probiotic supplements or related formula milk can regulate their gut microbiota and enhance their immune system .
3. Improving Allergic Reactions
The World Allergy Organization (WAO) recommends probiotic supplementation under these conditions:
- Pregnant women with a high risk of giving birth to allergic children
- Women breastfeeding infants at high risk of developing allergic diseases
- Direct use of probiotics for high-risk infants with allergies .
In another clinical study involving infants, long-term ingestion of Lactobacillus rhamnosus was found to effectively prevent allergic diseases and atopic eczema .
4. Alleviating Infections and Inflammation
In various clinical trials, probiotics have been proven effective in preventing recurrent urinary tract infections over the long term. Given that Escherichia coli is a major pathogen causing urinary tract infections, the Lactobacillus species can aid in improving gut or vaginal microbiota for urinary tract infections .
Results from a study showed that after 60 days of probiotic supplementation (Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus fermentum), 37% of female participants recovered from asymptomatic bacterial vaginosis to a normal lactobacillus-dominant vaginal flora, with no side effects or other infections observed .
5. Improving Metabolic Syndrome
Research suggests that regulating gut microbiota through probiotic consumption can help reduce weight, lower blood sugar and lipid levels, consequently reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes .
In a randomized double-blind study, overweight or obese women who consumed a probiotic formula containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactococcus lactis, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium lactis showed a significant reduction in abdominal obesity, with more pronounced effects compared to diet control alone .
Similar research also indicated that the group consuming Pediococcus pentosaceus (a type of probiotic) had significant reductions in BMI and body fat percentage compared to the placebo group .
6. Reducing Cancer Risk
Numerous animal studies have shown that probiotics have anti-tumor effects, such as in breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and liver cancer. Probiotics can enhance the body’s anti-tumor immune response and stimulate T cells .
A study suggests that regulating gut microbiota through the supplementation of probiotics (Lactobacillus species and Bifidobacterium species) and prebiotics can positively influence the interaction between the immune system and gut microbiota, beneficial for preventing chronic inflammation and colorectal cancer .
Furthermore, an animal experiment found that supplementing Lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice with liver cancer significantly slowed tumor growth and reduced tumor size and weight by 40% .
How to Choose Probiotic Strains? Recommended Probiotic Strains for Different Symptoms!
Even though we know about the many benefits of probiotics, when faced with a wide array of probiotic products and their various strains, it can be overwhelming to choose the right strain for ourselves. How do we select the strains that truly suit our needs? The following chart is designed to address this issue, enabling you to identify the most suitable products based on your specific health concerns. It provides an overview of the effects of various probiotic strains and their benefits corresponding to different health conditions.
|Probiotic effect||Recommended probiotic strains||Explanation of the efficacy of probiotics|
|Probiotics to improve gastrointestinal function||Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus rhodus, Saccharomyces boulardii||Reduce length of hospital stay and prevent progression of infectious diarrhea|
|Immune Boosting Probiotics||Bifidobacterium, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus||Aids gut health and immune system|
|Allergy-improving probiotics||Lactobacillus rhamnosus||Prevention of allergic diseases and atopic dermatitis|
|Relieves infection and inflammation||Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus fermentum||Long-term prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections|
|Improve metabolic syndrome||Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactococcus lactis, Bifidobacterium, Bifidobacterium lactis, Tetrastreptococcus lactis||Reduce abdominal fat and decrease BMI and body fat percentage|
|Reduces cancer risk||Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium||Prevention of chronic inflammation of the gut and colorectal cancer|
What are the Side Effects of Probiotics? Taking Probiotics Safely without Worries
Some studies have suggested that after consuming probiotics, individuals might experience mild gastrointestinal discomfort such as temporary bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and similar symptoms resembling infections. However, over the years, a combination of objective findings, the long history of safe probiotic use, and data from clinical trials, animal studies, and in vitro research have all supported the overall safety of probiotic use for the majority of individuals.
In another retrospective study that compiled a total of 622 research articles, cases reporting adverse reactions after probiotic consumption were compared. The analysis revealed that there was no statistically significant correlation between these adverse reactions and the intake of probiotics, indicating that these adverse effects were not directly related to the consumption of probiotics.