Mention the word bacteria, and the first thing that comes to mind is germs that may cause diseases. But did you know that bacteria can be beneficial for your health? The balance of bacteria in the digestive system is essential for health and disease prevention. Probiotics are known to provide this balance in the digestive system and have numerous other health benefits. Read on to know more about probiotics benefits on health.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are present in our digestive tract and support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. The term ‘probiotic’ is derived from the Greek language and means ‘for life.’

Gibson and Roberfroid first used the term probiotics is1995 to describe food that is non-digestible by the host but has beneficial effects as it stimulates the activity of organisms that are present in the intestine. Nowadays the term ‘probiotics’ is used for products that contain biologically active components that improve health (1).

Probiotics benefits on your health

Numerous studies have been done on the various probiotics benefits on health. Let us read more about them.

1. Improved digestive health

Probiotics contain good bacteria that restore the natural balance of the gut bacteria. Bad bacteria increases due to illness or if we take too many antibiotics. Too many bad bacteria in the gut can lead to digestive issues, allergies and even obesity (2).

Eating food rich in good bacteria (fermented food) or taking probiotic supplements can help protect from inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease (3).

2. Can help treat diarrhoea

As mentioned earlier, antibiotics can upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract. This disturbance often leads to diarrhoea. Several studies seem to suggest that probiotic supplements help in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (4).

Probiotics are also helpful in treating diarrhoea that is not linked to antibiotics.  In cases of acute infectious diarrhoea, probiotics usage reduces the severity and the duration of the illness (5).

Another study found that probiotics reduced the risk of travellers diarrhoea by 8 percent. Probiotic usage is also beneficial for children as it reduces the risk of acute diarrhoea among children by 57 percent (6).

3. May decrease antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels all over the world. This resistance to antibiotics is making it tougher to treat infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhoea and other foodborne infections. Tackling antibiotic resistance is high on the priority list of WHO (7).

Probiotics are helpful in rebuilding the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut which can be caused by antibiotics. Probiotics are also beneficial in increasing the effectiveness of antibiotics by preventing the bacteria present in the body from becoming resistant (8).

4. Can improve the mental health condition

Numerous studies have linked your gut health to your psychological health. Many animal and human studies have found that probiotic supplements can reduce mental health disorders (10). Anxiety, depression, Autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even memory can improve with the help of probiotic supplements.

According to 2015 review, psychoprobiotics (probiotics that improve brain function) have antidepressant and anxiolytic qualities (9).

According to a study done on 70 petrochemical workers, consumption of probiotic yoghurt or a multispecies probiotic capsule had the beneficial effect on mental health parameters (11).

In another study on patients with the major depressive disorder, consumption of probiotic supplements for eight weeks reduced depression and levels of C reactive protein (12).

5. Can boost the immune system

Probiotics are beneficial for the immune system, and they inhibit the growth of harmful gut bacteria (13). Probiotics also promote the production of natural antibodies in the body (14).

According to a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, when athletes from New Zealand took probiotic supplements, they had 40 percent few colds and gastrointestinal infections as compared to when they took a placebo.

Probiotics also reduce the chances of developing respiratory infections. A study was done to see the effects of probiotic Lactobacillus GC on 570 children in daycare centres. The study found that probiotic milk reduced the chances of respiratory infections by 17 percent (15).

6. Beneficial for skin

One of the probiotics benefits is on your skin. They help in reconstructing atopic dermatitis and promote healing of scars and burns. Probiotics have proved to be beneficial for preventing and treating pediatric atopic dermatitis (16).

Those suffering from acne can also benefit from probiotic supplements. Probiotics like lactobacillus acidophilus and yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae are known to improve acne.

Other probiotics like L. casei can reduce antigen-specific skin inflammation (17). Increase in good bacteria in the gut can help to hydrate ageing skin, reduce sun damage and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

7. Beneficial for weight loss

Recent studies have shown that maintaining healthy gut flora helps in weight loss. Some probiotics prevent the absorption of fat in the intestines. They also help you feel fuller for longer and burn more calories. Increased levels GLP-1 hormones cause this weight loss (18).

In another study, Lactobacillus rhamnosus formulation helped obese women to achieve weight loss (19). Other studies have found that Lactobacillus gasseri is helpful in belly fat reduction.

Some other kind of probiotics can also lead to weight gain. Some studies have discovered that Lactobacillus acidophilus can lead to weight gain. More studies should be done to determine the effect of different probiotics on weight.

8. Can lower blood pressure

In recent years probiotics and their potential role in maintaining cardiovascular and renal health have received much attention among the scientific communities. They have found probiotics can be useful in correcting gut microbiota and thus help in controlling hypertension (20).

Probiotics help lower blood pressure by lowering lipid profile, reducing insulin resistance and activating antioxidants.

According to recent research people who consumed probiotics were able to reduce their systolic blood pressure by 3.3 mm Hg, and diastolic blood pressure by 2.4 mm Hg as compared to those who did not consume probiotics.

The effects were more pronounced in those who had blood pressure higher than 130/85. According to this study probiotics that contain multiple types of bacteria are more effective in reducing blood pressure than those that have a single type of bacteria.

9. Help reduce food allergies

Food allergies among children have seen a rise in the last decade. According to recent research, it is the alteration in the gut flora that is responsible for this (21). Probiotics can help reduce food allergy symptoms by reducing chronic inflammation in the gut and reducing allergy symptoms (22).

In addition to preventing food allergies in children, probiotics can also be used for treating food intolerance. Specific probiotics are helpful in reducing inflammatory response in people with milk allergies (23).

10. Reduces risk of diabetes

Many studies have shown that probiotics can lower glucose and insulin levels in patients with diabetes. In a massive survey of around 200,000 subjects, researchers concluded that intake of yoghurt is associated with the reduced risk of type-2 diabetes (24).

Probiotics help people with diabetes by improving their insulin sensitivity and decreasing the autoimmune response, according to a 2014 analysis. It was suggested that probiotics should be used in controlled trials to see if probiotics can be used to manage the symptoms of diabetes (25).

11. Can help treat NAFLD

The non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is one of the most common liver problems all over the world. Probiotics can help reduce oxidative and inflammatory liver damage and so it can be used as an option for treatment of this option (26).

In another study done on obese rats, it was found that consumption of probiotics helps diminish the fat in the liver (27).

12. Can fight infant serious disease

Premature babies, low and very low birth weight (LBW, VLBW) infants are susceptible to dangerous diseases like necrotizing enterocolitis and neonatal sepsis. Research confirms that mothers who breastfed their infant while taking high-quality probiotics supplements are less likely to develop such disease.

Also, pregnant mothers, who took probiotics foods or its supplements, may not have to deal with such ailments in their little ones.

Probiotics rich foods

Yoghurt is the most common available probiotic food. But if you are looking for a variety of probiotics rich foods then refer below.

  • Kefir
  • Coconut Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kvass
  • Natto
  • Miso
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut

Probiotics side effects

Till now you saw probiotics benefits but we must keep in mind that not all probiotics have beneficial effects. Probiotics can sometimes cause diarrhoea. And in some rare cases, probiotics can also cause sepsis in cancer patients.

But overall, these side effects are few, and the benefits of probiotics are many. So, incorporate probiotics into your diet by eating more fermented foods or by taking probiotic supplements.

If you are starting new probiotic supplement regimens then it is recommended that you consult a medical professional.

Final words on probiotics benefits

By now, you must have understood that probiotics benefit your health in several ways. While probiotics are proven to be useful in treating many illnesses, more research is being done to see their role in treating cancer, improving dental health and treating urinary tract infections, kidney stones and rheumatic arthritis.