Bacterial Jack of All Trades

The many functions of probiotics and prebiotics.

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Probiotics are well known throughout the natural products realm for supporting digestive health and immunity, but many shoppers may not be aware of the true potential both probiotics and prebiotics have to support everyday health as well as complement modern therapies for chronic illnesses.

Skin From Inside Out
Probiotics help regulate the microbiome in our intestines in order to achieve the optimal bacterial composition. An unhealthy lifestyle and diet creates an imbalance in the microbiome in which it is overwhelmed by bad bacteria. This imbalance can manifest itself through a troublesome gastrointestinal tract or a troublesome complexion. Because our skin is one the largest organs of detoxification, when the body is  overwhelmed by inflammation internally, this inflammation can manifest itself externally as acne, rosacea and eczema (1). A study conducted in Italy in which subjects took either a daily probiotic along with acne/rosacea cream or just the cream, saw that those taking the daily probiotic experienced better progress in clearing skin (2).

Topical Application
Many beauty products have begun adding probiotics to their ingredient formulations. Applied topically, probiotics sit on the skin’s surface and act as a shield, preventing the skin cells from seeing the bad bacteria. When skin is exposed to bad bacteria, it provokes an immune response to defend itself against the foreign body, causing inflammation and redness on the skin (2). When probiotics protect the skin and interfere with the ability of bad bacteria to provoke an immune reaction, this is known as “bacterial interference” (2). While no studies yet exist to verify the effects of topical probiotics, they are sure to be something more and more manufacturers will begin to market, and more shoppers will start looking at.

Allergies
Allergies are a common nuisance, but the severity and frequency of allergy symptoms can be a reflection of an underdeveloped microbiome making one vulnerable to allergens (3). Researchers are exploring the ways in which exposure to bacteria from an early age can influence allergies later on. In one study, non-pathogenic Escherichia coli was administered to infants in order to stimulate their immune systems. At ages 10 and 20, the children treated with the bacteria suffered from significantly fewer allergies compared to the control group (4).

Because children of allergic mothers are at an increased risk of developing allergies, another study gave pregnant allergic women either L. rhamnosus GG or placebo for two to four weeks prior to delivery. In the experimental group the children received probiotic for six months after delivery (4). After four years, only 26% of children in the experimental group developed eczema compared to 46% in the placebo group (4). Probiotics have not been terribly effective in alleviating respiratory allergies. For example, while L. rhamnosus GG was helpful in easing symptoms of birch pollen allergy in children, this was not the case for adults (4). More research is necessary to determine what bacterial species and strains can be used to make individuals less vulnerable to allergens.

Behavior
A study conducted at the College of William and Mary involved 700 students who filled out questionnaires self reporting measures of consumption of fermented foods such as sauerkraut or yogurt and levels of traits such as social anxiety and neuroticism (4, 5). Researchers observed that people with neuroticism were more likely to experience social anxiety, but those that measured high in neuroticism and consumed high levels of fermented foods had lower measures of social anxiety (5). While more nuanced research must be conducted to determine the causality, the results are telling .

Prebiotics
Prebiotics, which can be sourced from foods such as bananas, onions, asparagus and garlic, are non-digestible fiber linked with promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut (7). Prebiotics also havd potential in other areas such as enhancing calcium absorption. This was demonstrated in a study of 31 healthy adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 13 who were instructed to drink smoothies containing 0, 2.5, or 5 grams of prebiotics such as galacto-oligosaccharides twice daily for three weeks (8). There was an increase in calcium absorption in subjects who consumed the prebiotics compared to placebo but it did not matter how high or low the dose was (8).

Urinary Tract Infections in Women
Urinary tract infections (UTI) are not uncommon with 8.3 million doctor visits per year for the condition, but if it occurs twice within six months, it is considered recurrent (9).  In a study of 100 women with a history of chronic UTI, half randomly took either a placebo or Lactobacillus crispatus for up to 10 weeks. Results showed that only 7% of the women in the probiotic group had recurrent UTI compared 13% in the placebo group (9). While a larger sample is required to provide more robust evidence of its efficacy, probiotics may be a good way to support urinary tract health if one is prone to infection.

Ulcerative Colitis
A form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, ulcerative colitis (UC) is specific to the colon. While recent studies have shown that taking probiotics cannot stop a flare up from occurring, they may enhance mucus production which helps coat the stomach and protect against invasive bacteria. A study of 327 people with a history of UC compared the use of Escherichia coli to mesalamine, a standard anti-inflammatory medication used for UC (10). The study found that the probiotic treatment was just as effective for inducing and maintaining remission for over a year (10). Long term trials have yet to be tested and it is important to understand that certain strains will help but others may not. WF

References
1. “Could Probiotics Be The Key To Healthy, Clear Skin?” http://pittsburgh.
cbslocal.com/2016/04/05/could-probiotics-be-the-key-to-healthy-clear-skin/
2. “Could probiotics be the next big thing in acne and rosacea treatments.” https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/could-probiotics-be-the-next-big-thing-in-acne-and-rosacea-treatments
3. “How Probiotics Can Help You Prevent and Fight Allergies According to New Research.” http://bodyecology.com/articles/how_probiotics_help_prevent_allergies.php
4. A.C. Ouwehand. “Antiallergic Effects of Probiotics.” J. Nutr. 137 (3). 2007
5 “How Probiotics May Help Ease Social Anxiety.” http://abcnews.go.com
/Health/probiotics-ease-social-anxiety/story?id=32193267
6. M.R. Hilimire. “Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model.” http://www.psy-journal.com/article/S0165-1781%2815%2900214-0/abstract
7. “Prebiotics improve digestion and reduce risk of cancer.” http://www.naturalnews.com/050002_prebiotics_probiotics_gut_health.html#
8 C.M. Whisner. “Galacto-oligosaccharides increase calcium absorption and gut bifidobacteria in young girls: a double-blind cross-over trial.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23507173
9. D. Andre. “Urinary tract infection recurrence in women may be reduced by probiotics.” http://www.belmarrahealth.com/urinary-tract-infection-recurrence-in-women-may-be-reduced-by-probiotics/
10. R.N. Fedorak. “Probiotics in the Management of Ulcerative Colitis.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3033537/

Published in WholeFoods Magazine December 2016