How probiotics can help health conditions

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed that “All disease begins in the gut”. Recent research is proving that this is substantially correct.

Your digestive system is a sequence of organs that convert food into the nutrients you need and eliminates unused waste material. If the digestive system is compromised, the body may be inadequately nourished or unable to rid itself of waste-building toxicity that can lead to illness.

The digestive system or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, begins at the mouth, includes the (o)esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (also known as the colon) and the rectum.

Probiotics have been shown to have an effect on the following conditions. Click the + sign to open up the information boxes. References are listed below.

Probiotics help against Candida – and therefore Thrush – in two ways. They replace the beneficial bacteria that were reduced when the candida overgrowth started and they inhibit the growth of candida through anti-fungal compounds secreted by the bacteria. The bacteria also create lactic and acetic acid that help maintain your stomach acidity.

A study published in the US Library of Medicine demonstrates the effectiveness of probiotic therapy in the treatment of fungal colonization of the GI tract.

Candida albicans is a yeast-shaped fungus and whilst usually harmless, can over-grow in the mouth, throat or vagina.  Infections can spread to infect other organs.

Candidiasis is linked to several other conditions, including: chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and allergies.

Normally your gut flora have a natural resistance to Candida but this can be reduced during or after antibiotics, by a compromised immune system or sometimes in cases of diabetes. Antibiotics have the ability to disrupt the bacterial populations within the gut, a condition called dysbiosis. This then leads to the overgrowth of harmful micro-organisms like Candida albicans.

Probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus can stimulate the immune system to inhibit Candida and cut down the extent and duration of a Candida overgrowth. When combined with anti-fungal drugs, probiotics can reduce the risk of recurrence or even eliminate the condition.

By reducing the pH of the vaginal tract, probiotic bacteria also make it a hostile environment for yeast growth.

Diarrhoea can be caused by bowel infection (gastroenteritis) which in turn can be caused by a virus (such as norovirus), by bacteria (such as E. coli picked up from contaminated food) or by a parasite (often spread in contaminated water and caught in areas with poor hygiene). This is often known as travellers’ diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea causes dysbiosis – an imbalance in the gut microflora, with too few beneficial bacteria and an overgrowth of harmful micro-organisms. Dysbiosis then increases gut permeability and inflammation of the intestine.

Supplementing with probiotics encourages the ‘good’ live bacteria to colonise in the gut and crowd out the pathogens, thereby helping to reduce the duration and severity of, or prevent, diarrhoea. Indeed studies show that the beneficial live bacteria may help to protect the gut epithelium from further invasion.

Researchers have therefore concluded that probiotic (live good bacteria) supplements are a useful addition to rehydration therapy in managing acute infectious diarrhoea. They have the greatest effect if given as soon as possible after the onset of diarrhoea.

In cases of foreign travel it is recommended to take a probiotic supplement before and during the visit.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is common, affecting more women than men, and between 8% and 13% of all women at some point. Symptoms may come and go and no-one is quite sure what causes it.

IBS symptoms are a mixture of belly discomfort or pain, bloating and trouble with bowel habits. Although it is different from, and doesn’t develop into, the much more serious Inflammatory Bowel Disease, IBS can be a long-lasting problem that interferes with your lifestyle.

Some studies suggest that the colon gets hypersensitive, overreacting to mild stimulation. Instead of slow, rhythmic muscle movements, the bowel muscles spasm – which can cause diarrhoea or constipation.

Other studies suggest that certain bacteria in the bowels may lead to the condition.

Because IBS happens in women much more often than in men, some believe hormones may play a role, although this has not yet been borne out.

IBS can be triggered by certain foods like peppers, red wine, wheat, milk, certain drugs and emotional stress.

The symptoms may be relieved by:

  • Adding more fibre to your diet through foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts or by adding psyllium or bran to your cereal
  • Drinking at least four glasses of water per day
  • Avoiding caffeine (in coffee, teas and soft drinks)
  • Getting more exercise and reducing stress in your life
  • Limiting milk or cheese in your diet
  • Keeping a record of the foods you eat so you can figure out which foods bring on bouts of IBS

There is no test for IBS, but increasingly taking an active ‘friendly bacteria supplement – a probiotic – is a proposed therapy – see reference. The evidence from a dozen or more studies – albeit some quite small – and reviewed in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology is that: Probiotics will likely have an emerging adjunctive therapeutic role in treating IBS”. 

Since IBS and Leaky Gut Syndrome appear closely related and probiotics are recommended for the latter, it is definitely worth trying a probiotic supplement for an 8 week trial period.

Hay fever – or Allergic Rhinitis – is inflammation in the nose which occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens in the air. Thus it is caused by an over-sensitive immune system.

Since 70% of the immune system is located in the gut and gut health is linked to the diversity and quality of our gut flora, researchers at the University of Florida hypothesised that taking a probiotic combination could reduce the severity of symptoms of hay fever.

In general the researchers wanted to test if a probiotic combination of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria would help alleviate allergy symptoms. Specifically they believed that probiotics could increase the body’s regulatory T-cells, which might in turn increase tolerance to hay fever symptoms.

173 healthy adults who suffer seasonal allergies were split into two groups and tested over 8 weeks. One took the combination probiotic while the other group took a placebo.

Those who took the probiotic reported improvements in quality of life, compared to those taking the placebo. For example, they reported fewer allergy-related nose symptoms and a reduction in runny and itchy eyes.

The researchers say that currently available allergy medications have unwanted potential side effects, such as a dry mouth and drowsiness, which is why there is a need for an alternative.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a term that describes chronic conditions in which the intestinal tract is persistently inflamed. It affects about 1 person in 250 – over 300,000 people in the UK. The two main forms of IBD are Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC).

IBD is NOT the same as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), a different condition in which the intestine is not damaged.

Crohn’s and UC are long-term serious conditions that can start at any age, although most commonly in younger life. The main symptoms are pain in the tummy, weight loss, diarrhoea and blood in the stool. The condition may flare up or diminish on an irregular basis. Treatments include drugs that reduce the inflammation, but there is no current cure.

There is now credible evidence that a probiotic supplement may help.

The main factors now considered to be responsible for the intestinal inflammation that underlies IBD are genetics, a reduced level of protective ‘friendly’ bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli and an immune system over-reacting to increased levels of harmful gut microbes like E.coli, and continuing to react even when these levels are subsequently reduced. These trigger abrasions in the gut wall.

The initial trigger for the inflammation involved is thought to be when cells in the lining of the gut becomes more porous. Although a degree of permeability is needed to allow nutrients to pass through the gut wall into the blood stream, this dangerous increased gut permeability  – see leaky gut syndrome’ – can  also allow pathogenic bacteria to pass through the gut wall.

One approach that can alleviate IBD is to increase the number of beneficial bacteria and reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria – and thereby reduce this extra gut permeability.  The intention is to  reduce the level of the immune system’s reaction and therefore not trigger continual or chronic inflammation.

Research shows that a reduction in microbial diversity is a factor in IBD together with an increase in pathogenic fungi. A review article by the Gastroenterology Division at the Catholic University in Rome acknowledged that “probiotics are becoming a legitimate therapeutic option”.

Treatment with probiotics has been shown in other studies to help reduce intestinal inflammation and inflammatory response and to reduce inflammation in patients with IBD – sometimes in as little as 4-6 weeks. The severity of the symptoms were reduced and remission periods increased.

Anti-inflammatory nutrients like Omega 3 and polyphenol supplements should also help.

The lining of your intestines need to allow nutrients to be absorbed into the blood stream.

But sometimes there is a problem. Leaky gut syndrome – or intestinal hyper-permeability – is a condition caused by junctions along the lining of the gut becoming porous to more than nutrients.

Along the lining of your intestines are epithelial cells otherwise called the mucosal barrier. These cells form tight junctions that allow only small particles of digested food through to the bloodstream.

Sometimes this gut lining becomes permeable or ‘leaky’, allowing bacteria, toxins and some undigested nutrients into the bloodstream and then to circulate throughout the bloodstream. It’s like opening a gateway that should have remained closed.

Here, they stimulate the immune system which reacts to their presence as they do to any foreign protein or perceived threat. This can create an inflammatory reaction that may lead to antibody production and the development of auto-immune disease – that can include irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

The condition can have several causes and appears to be increasingly common. In sensitive people, gluten can cause the gut cells to release a protein called zonulin that can break apart the tight junctions in the intestinal lining.

There is even some research to indicate that conditions like mood issues, food sensitivities, asthma, and eczema could be linked to leaky gut syndrome. Nutritional deficiencies can also result from leaky gut including vitamin B12, magnesium and some key enzymes that help digest food.

Yet because the whole microbiome is such a new area of research, many doctors are unsure about the condition – or even if it exists – and tend to downplay it or prescribe antacids.

Triggers for Leaky Gut Syndrome can include gluten sensitivity as mentioned, excess yeast, antibiotics, excess alcohol, pathogenic bacteria, lactose intolerance, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – and even age!

Signs of the condition can include gas, bloating and chronic fatigue.

Advice on dealing  with Leaky Gut Syndrome includes additional vitamin D and zinc and a probiotic supplement. Following a coeliac diet can also help.

Candida and Thrush references

  • Are probiotics effective in the treatment of fungal colonization of the gastrointestinal tract? Experimental and clinical studies. Zwolińska-Wcisło M, Brzozowski T, Mach T, Budak A, Trojanowska D, Konturek PC, Pajdo R, Drozdowicz D, Kwiecień S. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2006 Nov;57 Suppl 9:35-49.
  • In vitro studies on colonisation resistance of the human gut microbiota to Candida albicans and the effects of tetracycline and Lactobacillus plantarum LPK”, Payne S., Gibson G., Wynne A., Hudspith B., Brostoff J., Tuohy K. (2003), Curr Issues Intest Microbiol 4(1):1-8.
  • Vaginal yeast infections in diabetic women. Peer A.K., Hoosen A.A., Seedat M.A., van den Ende J., Omar M.A. (1993), S Afr Med J, 83(10):727-9.
  • Recurrent vaginal candidiasis. Importance of an intestinal reservoir: Miles M.R., Olsen L., Rogers A. (1977), JAMA238(17):1836-7.

Diarrhoea references

  • Probiotics for treating infectious diarrhoea”, Allen S.J., Okoko B., Martinez E., Gregorio G., Dans L.F. (2004),Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2:CD003048.
  • Clinical uses of probiotics for stabilizing the gut mucosal barrier: successful strains and future challenges, Salminen S., Isolauri E., Salminen E. (1996), Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek, 70:347-58.
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0088733/
  • Live probiotics protect intestinal epithelial cells from the effects of infection with enteroinvasive Escherichia coli (EIEC) Resta-Lenert S. and Barrett K.E. (2003), Gut, 52(7):988-97

IBS references

  • Probiotic Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome George Aragon, MD, Deborah B. Graham, MD, Marie Borum, MD, EdD, MPH, and David B. Doman, MD, FACP, FACG Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2010 Jan; 6(1): 39–44.

Hay Fever References

  • Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei LP-33 in allergic rhinitis: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial (GA2LEN Study)”, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 602–607 D J Costa, P Marteau, M Amouyal, L K Poulsen, E Hamelmann, M Cazaubiel, B Housez, S Leuillet, M Stavnsbjerg, P Molimard, S Courau and J Bousquet
  • Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis with Probiotics: An Alternative Approach Gui Yang, Zhi-Qiang Liu, and Ping-Chang Yang1 N Am J Med Sci. 2013 Aug; 5(8): 465–468. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.117299

IBD references

  • Gut Microbial Flora, Prebiotics, and Probiotics in IBD: Their Current Usage and Utility Franco Scaldaferri, et al Department of Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology Division, Catholic University of Sacred Hearth, Roma, Italy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D. N Engl J Med 1991; 325:1008-1016 October 3, 1991DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199110033251406
  • Probiotics for Crohn’s and Colitis, Cartwright P. (2003), Prentice Publishing.
  • Probiotic Lactobacillus spp. diminish Helicobacter hepaticus-induced inflammatory bowel disease in Interleukin–10 deficient mice”, Penja J.A., Rogers A.B., Ge Z., Ng V., Li S.Y., Fox J.G., Versalovic J. (2005), Infect Immun. Feb, 73(2): 912:20.
  • https://scienceouverte.fr/IMG/pdf/kruis_2004_nissle.pdf

Leaky Gut Syndrome references

  • Arrieta MC, et al. Alterations in intestinal permeability. Gut. 2006 Oct;55(10):1512-20.
  • Drago S, et al. Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2006 Apr;41(4):408-19.
  • Gecse K, et al. Leaky gut in patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome and inactive ulcerative colitis. Digestion. 2012;85(1):40-6.
  • Fasano A. Zonulin and its regulation of intestinal barrier function: the biological door to inflammation, autoimmunity, and cancer. Physiol Rev. 2011 Jan;91(1):151-75.
  • McMillen M. Leaky Gut Syndrome: What Is It? http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/leaky-gut-syndrome.
  • Khalif IL, et al. Alterations in the colonic flora and intestinal permeability and evidence of immune activation in chronic constipation. Dig Liver Dis. 2005;7:838–49.
  • Liu Z, et al. Tight junctions, leaky intestines, and pediatric diseases. Acta Paediatr. 2005 Apr;94(4):386-93.
  • Hollander D. Intestinal permeability, leaky gut, and intestinal disorders. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 1999 Oct;1(5):410-6.