How Eating Tiny Microbes May Help You Feel Better

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If you haven’t heard about the idea of supplementing with probiotics--encapsulated bacterial strains--the concept can be a little off-putting, especially in the mainstream North American society which generally shuns microbial life. But probiotic supplements have been gaining popularity, earning the rank of third most popular natural product for both adults and kids in the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. [1]

So, in a society where anti-microbial hand soap is ubiquitous, why are some people voluntarily popping pills that contain millions or billions of microbes?

First, it’s a little easier to understand when we know that people have lots of bacteria living all over them, basically on every external surface and in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, it’s been estimated that there are ten times more bacterial cells than there are human cells in our bodies. [2] Probiotic supplements are concentrations of the strains of bacteria that are present in healthy humans, taken by mouth to support a healthy microbial community, which in turn, can help us feel better.

Probiotics have been used by naturopathic doctors for decades for a wide range of conditions, and recent research has helped illuminate how probiotics help, what systems they influence and verified a few conditions that they can help.

There is evidence that probiotics are helpful in a whole host of cases related to GI health including:

  • infectious diarrhea
  • antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • H. pylori infection
  • lactose intolerance [3]

We also know that probiotics have been used for immune modulation for conditions such as common colds, dental caries, urinary tract infections, sinus and ear infections, eczema and allergies. [4] This approach is supported by research that details the relationship between gut microbiota and immune function. [3] Lastly, probiotics have been shown to influence the gut-brain axis, [3] suggesting a mechanism for their use in cases of anxiety or depression.

While probiotics are gaining in popularity and scientific support for their efficacy, they are not for everyone. Schedule an appointment to see if we can get you feeling better-maybe probiotics will be a part of your take-home treatment plan.

References

  1. Most Used Natural Products. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2012/natural-products. Published December 2, 2015. Accessed September 22, 2017.
  2. Sekirov I, Russell SL, Antunes LC, Finlay BB. Gut microbiota in health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2010;90(3):859-904.
  3. Sánchez B, Delgado S, Blanco-míguez A, Lourenço A, Gueimonde M, Margolles A. Probiotics, gut microbiota, and their influence on host health and disease. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017;61(1)
  4. Gabrowska M, Ross MR. Pediatric Probiotics: Impact on the Development of a Normal Immune System. Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. http://ndnr.com/womens-health/pediatric-probiotics-impact-on-the-development-of-normal-immune-system/. Published February 15, 2007. Accessed September 22, 2017.
Katy Morrison, ND, LAc