The "Contains Probiotics" label on many bottles and boxes has attracted the attention of the American public. What started as a few medical practices dabbling into probiotic use has become a country-wide phenomenon, and it is easy to get lost in the fog of purported benefits and marketing scams.
It is true, though, that probiotics can help with a variety of health issues. Scientists are still looking into their benefits for everything from ulcerative colitis to knee osteoarthritis. However, probiotics are not a one-size-fits-all deal, and each strain serves a different purpose.
Probiotics are live microbes that are introduced into the body in order to benefit health. There are hundreds of types of these microbes; the most common are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces species. The Lactobacillus genus alone contains more than 180 species. Some strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) and other bacteria also have probiotic benefits.
Lactobacillus plantarum is a species of Lactobacillus commonly found in saliva, mammalian gastrointestinal tracts, and certain foods. It has been shown to relieve constipation by reducing the solidity of stool and promoting intestinal and overall gut health. Some experts consider it a useful treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and other bowel and gut disorders.
Bifidobacterium lactis is a species of the smaller genus Bifidobacterium and exists the gastrointestinal tract, mouth, and vagina of mammals. Its benefits are extensive, and it may be helpful for people with celiac disease. Wheat gliadin severely impacts the intestines of people with celiacs, but B. Lactis can directly counteract the toxic effects and could become a novel treatment for celiac disease, instead of or in addition to the gluten-free diet individuals must often adopt.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus occurs naturally in dairy foods and the human body. One study highlighted its benefits in preventing and treating atopical eczema in infants from birth to two years of age. It may also be effective in eczema cases in individuals beyond toddler age. L. rhamnosus is also shown to build immunity to intestinal and respiratory infections in rats when consumed via goat's milk. It is widely available in supplement forms as well as in foods.
Studies show the Lactobacillus acidophilus strain L-92 is an effective anti-allergen probiotic and can be used to ease the symptoms of a variety of allergens, from dermatitis to hay fever. Research also notes possible immune benefits that could protect against the influenza virus.
These two probiotics may help improve behavior and mood, especially in those with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. One study showed daily exposure to both strains alleviated psychological stress in subjects. In rats, it significantly reduced anxious behaviors by lowering overall levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. These probiotics may have a future in treatments for mood disorders.
Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 can benefit women's vaginal health. It is found in healthy vaginas and is resistant to the cocci bacterium. It also can help prevent the colonization of harmful microorganisms. L. reuteri has other incredible benefits as well: resistance to staphylococci bacteria makes it capable of preventing toxic shock syndrome, and the ability to modulate the immune system enables it to resist sepsis.
It is important to keep surgical wounds clean, but hospitals are teeming with bacteria, and it is often difficult to protect wounds from more invasive and determined strains of bacteria. Lactobacillus fermentum has demonstrated a resistance to both S. aureus and P. aeruginosa, bacteria resistant to much of conventional medicine. In the future, it may help treat infections acquired post-surgery or during hospital stays.
A member of the smaller genus Saccharomyces, S. boulardii seems to efficiently treat and prevent several acute and chronic gastrointestinal diseases. It has significant resistance to the effects of C. diff, a very treatment-resistant and harmful bacteria. S. boulardii reduces diarrhea and intestinal inflammation in patients with C. diff, and stimulates the production of other antitoxins.
The Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota is naturally occurring in the human mouth and urinary tract. Research indiciates it can relieve symptoms of stress in humans and animals. One study showed the probiotic significantly suppressed cortisol levels in medical students facing stress about exams. Other studies suggest a link between increased LcS levels and reduced gut bacterial translocation in type 2 diabetes patients; it may also help treat symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.
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