By now many people have heard about the major health benefits linked to probiotics, the live micro-organisms that naturally occurs in certain foods such as yogurt and fermented vegetables, including pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Probiotics have been shown to be particularly good for the gut and the immune system. When the delicate balance between good bacteria and harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal track is out of whack, it can lead to poor health and even disease.
Studies have shown that ingesting food rich in probiotics and/or taking a probiotic supplement may help:
- Treat diarrhea and other stomach ailments, especially following treatment with certain antibiotics
- Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
- Treat irritable bowel syndrome
- Prevent or reduce the intensity of colds and flu
Today numerous research studies show that the pros surrounding taking probiotics may be even more far-reaching than previously thought. Current studies have linked ingesting probiotics to reducing depression, improving cognition, preventing tooth decay, boosting heart health, and even warding off acne.
Here’s a rundown of how they may help in these other health arenas:
Probiotics and Depression:
Researchers are now seeing a link between both the gut and brain health, including mental health. A recent placebo-controlled study led by Laura Steenbergen from Leiden University in The Netherlands demonstrated a positive effect probiotic supplements had on mood.
In this study, published in 2015 in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, twenty healthy, non-depressed participants took a multispecies probiotic (Bifidobacterium bifidum W23, Bifidobacterium lactis W52, Lactobacillus acidophilus W37, Lactobacillus brevis W63, Lactobacillus casei W56, Lactobacillus salivarius W24, Lactococcus lactis) for 4 weeks while 20 other participants received a placebo. Compared to the placebo group, participants consuming the probiotic had significantly reduced cognitive reactivity to sad mood. This promising study shows that probiotics may indeed play a role in preventing depression and anxiety.
Probiotics and Heart Health:
According to the American Heart Association, a meta-study used to analyze data from 9 different studies on probiotics and blood pressure showed that compared to the placebo, participants saw a reduction in blood pressure.
Analyzing results of nine high-quality studies examining blood pressure and probiotic consumption in 543 adults with normal and high blood pressure researchers found:
- Probiotic consumption lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average 3.56 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) by an average 2.38 mm Hg, compared to adults who didn’t consume probiotics
- The positive effects from probiotics on diastolic blood pressure were greatest in people whose blood pressure was equal to or greater than 130/85, which is considered elevated
- Consuming probiotics for less than eight weeks didn’t lower systolic or diastolic blood pressure
- Probiotic consumption with a daily bacteria volume of 109-10 12 colony-forming units (CFU) may improve blood pressure. Consumption with less than 109 CFU didn’t lower blood pressure. CFU is the amount of bacteria or the dose of probiotics in a product.
Probiotics with multiple bacteria lowered blood pressure more than those with a single bacteria.
Probiotics and Dental Health
Dental caries and gum disease are two of the most widespread forms of infection known to humans, and gum disease has now been linked with cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes. In addition, tooth decay in early life can lead to the complete destruction of teeth and cause infections, pain, and nutritional deficiencies—and even contribute to speech and learning difficulties.
But research also shows that probiotics can help maintain good oral health. A study published in the Swedish Dental Journal showed that a probiotic reduced gum bleeding in patients with moderate to severe gingivitis (gum disease).
The cavity-reducing effects of probiotics were also observed in a study in Caries Research that showed good bacteria can reduce dental plaque by 20 percent. Other studies showed that probiotics can inhibit bacteria that causes bad breath. Probiotics may even help prevent oral cancer, according to Cancer Prevention Research.
Probiotics and Skin Health
Probiotic supplements have been shown to help improve skin health and even help those with acne and rosacea.
A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study investigated the benefits of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 for acne lesions. Led by Gabriella Fabbrocini of the University of Naples Federico II in Naples, Italy, researchers asked 20 adults with acne to consume a liquid supplement containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 (3 billion CFU/day), or a placebo, for 12 weeks. Those who had probiotic supplementation experienced significant improvements in skin.
Probiotic supplements can be found in capsules, tablets, powders and liquid extracts -- each contain a specific type of probiotic. Probiotics that deliver 20 to 50 billion live organisms per dose and contain a combination of different strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria are commonly recommended.