What comes to your mind when you talk about bacteria? Did you know that your stomach contains more than a hundred trillion bacteria cells where some you can call your friends and others are your foes?
Usually, when we think of bacteria being in our body, we usually think of microorganisms that could harm us. But, that’s not always the case. As a matter of fact, some bacteria are critical to our body’s normal functions. True that there are what we call nasty bacteria that could thrive within us because of our poor lifestyle choices and there are those that valiantly try to protect us from the negative effects of bad bacteria and keep our intestinal lining healthy. These bacteria are quite harmless, and even make up the diverse “fauna” of our tummies. When some microbes lead to illness, most of the time they actually help our bodies with vital functions that are essential for our survival. Bacteria are any of a group of microscopic single-celled organisms that live in enormous numbers in almost every environment on Earth, from depths of the sea and deep low the Earth’s surface to the digestive tracts of humans (1). Yes, these minute organisms are present around us and dwell within us. They are so small that millions of them could fit onto the eye of a needle. These so-called ‘good’ bacteria are probiotics.
Some distinguished health benefits of probiotics focus on the gut and the brain. Here are the health benefits of probiotics for the gut and brain.
Health Benefits of Probiotics for gut health:
It has been understood that these probiotics are microbial strains beneficial to health which eventually led to a significant increase in research interest in their use to modulate the gut microbiota (2). These live microorganisms supplement the microbiota to grant a health benefit if taken in an adequate dose. The health benefits of probiotics include promoting the balance of intestinal microbiota, aiding digestion, and supporting the immune system through mechanisms similar to endogenous microbiota (3). The fermentation process uses microorganisms to transform food products. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, use beneficial microorganisms to achieve a desired flavor and texture. Patients who want to achieve the desired health benefit of these fermented foods must see to it that they choose clinically proven probiotic supplement (4). Many results in researches conducted show that they can help with digestive problems as well as other health problems.
One of the most popular probiotics are the bifidobacteria. They are a large group of normal intestinal organisms. It is believed that supplementing with bifidobacteria produces a wide range of health benefits. These benefits include suppressed inflammatory cytokine production by the intestines of elderly volunteers, reducing the burden of inflammation that contributes to cardiovascular, cancer, and metabolic disease risk, and thereby early death (5). The most prominent effects of bifidobacteria supplementation will be on the health of the intestinal tract itself. In a research, bifidobacteria supplementation reduces episodes of acute diarrhea by 34%, and those of antibiotic-associated diarrhea by 52%, while reducing traveler’s diarrhea episodes by 8% (6). Indeed, they are helpful in relieving diarrhea associated with antibiotics and Clostridium difficile and help prevent diarrhea associated with C. difficile (7). Here, probiotics replenish the good bacteria that antibiotics might have killed. There is an evidence that probiotics improve symptoms of other gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation (8). Hence, probiotics may play a role in aiding digestion for patients suffering from some digestive diseases. They are “good” bacteria that promote gut health and keep harmful bacteria in check.
These probiotics also produce a significant reduction in abdominal distension and improve symptom scores along with faster bowel transit times (9). Several recent studies demonstrate significant improvements in measures of gastrointestinal well-being, decreases in digestive symptom scores and bloating, and increases in health-related quality of life during bifidobacteria supplementation (10). In addition, they also alter the intestinal environment, making it unfavorable for organisms that trigger episodes of colitis (11). In some clinical studies, these probiotics show remarkable improvements in symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases and lower levels of a number of biological markers of colon cancer risk in patients with colitis (12).
Moreover, probiotics lower the pH level in the colon, which might help stool move faster through it.
Health Benefits of Probiotics for brain:
Probiotics are touted of their ability to treat an array of health problems especially digestive disorder. More researches emerge to reveal more the potential of probiotics for improving a different aspect of health, this time, brain health. Research shows that the gut and brain are connected, a partnership called the gut-brain axis where the two are linked through biochemical signaling between the nervous system in the digestive tract, called the enteric nervous system, and the central nervous system, which includes the brain (13). The primary information connection between the brain and gut is the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body (14). Because the gut produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, it is then considered as ‘second brain’ where all of them play a significant role in regulating mood. Ninety percent of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is made in the digestive tract (15). What affects the gut often affects the brain and vice versa which is why stressful events can cause digestive problems like a nervous or upset stomach (16). Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, or chronic constipation, on the other hand, may also trigger anxiety or depression.
Probiotics may help boost mood and cognitive function and lower stress and anxiety, according to some research. In a study published online November 10, 2016, by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, it is revealed that Alzheimer’s patients who took milk made with four probiotic bacteria species for 12 weeks scored better on a test to measure cognitive impairment compared with those who drank regular milk (17). Another small 2013 study reported in the journal Gastroenterology says that women who ate yogurt with a mix of probiotics, twice a day for four weeks, were calmer when exposed to images of angry and frightened faces compared with a control group (18). MRIs also found that the yogurt group had lower activity in the insula, the brain area that processes internal body sensations like those emanating from the gut (19).
It is undeniably true that probiotics can do more than improve your gut health. They also may indirectly enhance your brain, too. The above support how these microorganisms work to help us achieve and maintain a healthy gut and a sharp mind. Making probiotics a part of your diet is a very good idea!