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Probiotics: Uses, Benefits, And Risks

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You may be amazed that your body may contain approximately 200 trillion bacteria. But, it isn’t a matter of concern as all these bacteria are friendly and help us perform several metabolic tasks.

People having higher or balanced levels of these harmless bacteria or microbes may easily fight against harmful foreign agents.

These bacteria also offer several other benefits like improved immunity, digestion, weight loss, etc.

Hence, you should focus on keeping such helpful bacteria in your gut. This article will share knowledge about probiotics’ benefits, side effects, sources, and other facts.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are several living microorganisms, including bacteria and yeast, that promote good health[1] when consumed or applied to the body.

You may find these organisms in several foods you regularly consume, like yogurt, fermented foods, or some cosmetic products.

Moreover, some probiotic organisms are pre-existing in the human body to operate different metabolic activities like digestion, etc.

Generally, probiotics include a wide variety of organisms, each offering different benefits. Bacteria of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genus primarily show beneficial properties to humans.

Similarly, some yeasts like Saccharomyces boulardii could be used as probiotics or in probiotic products.

You may not require additional probiotic supplements to improve your probiotic microbes concentration in the body.

But, maintaining a healthy diet may play a vital role in keeping the probiotic concentration optimum for good health.

What Do Probiotics Do?

Probiotics are friendly microorganisms that individuals need to keep themselves healthy and active.

These microbes participate in multiple metabolic and enzymatic activities to enhance the process and improve the results.

Several probiotic bacteria may help fight against foreign agents like disease-causing bacteria.

These good bacteria may prevent the entry of harmful bacteria to maintain the balance within the body, as per the article[2].

Moreover, some friendly bacteria could be responsible for improving immunity and inflammation to ward off foreign microbes.

The probiotic microbes are naturally found in the human body as they help in multiple metabolic activities.

You may have heard of some friendly microbes helping break down food and improve digestion.

Various bacteria are also responsible for creating enzymes and vitamins alongside breaking and absorbing the consumed medicines.

A few probiotic organisms may complement white blood cells in killing the entered harmful agents and preventing their growth.

Benefits Of Probiotics

  • Optimizes Friendly Bacteria Numbers

    Generally, due to an unusual diet, the body’s good and bad bacteria levels get disturbed.

    Here, probiotics could help balance the number of friendly bacteria by eliminating the highly harmful bacteria from the body.

    Moreover, improving the good bacteria numbers in the body enhances the defense system and prevents several diseases, as per this study[3].

    Hence, you should focus on consuming natural probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, fermented products, etc.

  • Improves Mental Health

    Several animal and human trials have shown that probiotics help elevate mood and suppress[4] mental conditions like stress, depression, and anxiety.

    Some experts have linked the enhanced mental state with improved gut health.

    But, probiotics reduce hormone levels like insulin and C-reactive protein concentration for good mental health.

    Additionally, experts believe that probiotics could be a possible way to boost[5] memory and concentration.

  • Reduces Chronic Disease Risks

    Good gut bacteria and other friendly microbes may help prevent several chronic conditions[6] like type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.

    These friendly bacteria may have a role in obesity development, inflammation, and insulin resistance.

    Moreover, the study[7] has shown that friendly bacteria are effective for weight management.

    Hence, you would reduce the risk of heart-related problems due to heavy weight.

  • Minimizes Lactose Intolerance

    Probiotic food like yogurt could help minimize[8] lactose intolerance. Yogurt contains crucial bacteria like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

    These help in breaking down the lactose present in milk into the digestible compounds in the small intestine and prevent lactose from entering the colon.

    But, you should not consume excess yogurt as it may cause side effects like stomach aches.

  • Improves Gastrointestinal Health

    Good bacteria present in the gut may help improve[9] gastrointestinal health by eliminating several disease-causing microbes.

    These friendly bacteria may help lower the risk[10] of diarrhea caused due to antibiotics. Moreover, probiotics may help relieve the symptoms[11] of irritable bowel syndrome.

    The study[12] also reveals that gut bacteria restrict the colonization of Helicobacter pylori, responsible for stomach cancer and ulcer.

  • Lowers LDL Cholesterol Levels

    The human gut contains some lactic-acid bacteria that help break down[13] bile to lower cholesterol levels.

    Bile juice is primarily made with cholesterol that helps in improving digestion.

    Here, the lactic-acid bacteria break the bile to prevent it from getting reabsorbed into the bloodstream as bad cholesterol.

    Hence, balanced good and bad cholesterol levels in the blood promote better heart health.

Natural Probiotics

Natural probiotics could be defined as the probiotics obtained from natural sources like food, dirt, etc.

These natural probiotics enter via the diet and empower the gut with friendly and fighter bacteria.

You may rely on these natural probiotic foods to fulfill your probiotic needs. These are the biggest source of several essential nutrients required for multiple metabolic activities.

You may find natural probiotics in fermented form as they preserve the food for longer.

Moreover, the fermentation of several food items allows for the breaking of carbohydrates and interaction with the bacteria.

The resulting food may taste tangy or sour, but it’s filled with numerous probiotics. Some of the natural probiotics are –

  • Sauerkraut

    Sauerkraut is a fermented food[14], primarily consumed in Asian countries for its probiotic boosting abilities.

    The food item contains a high amount of lactic acid, essential for the healthy growth of probiotics.

    Moreover, sauerkraut contains multiple vitamins, including Vitamin B, C, A, and K, to keep the body healthy[15].

  • Kimchi

    Kimchi is a Korean food that offers high amounts of probiotics to consumers.

    Generally, the food item is prepared by adding[16] several crucifers like radishes, cabbages, etc., alongside pepper and ginger.

    The food provides a high amount of lactic acid to the body, improving probiotic concentration.

    Moreover, fermenting Kimchi may make B and C vitamins bioavailable for metabolic usage and could also be beneficial for your overall health, as per the research[17].

  • Yogurt

    Yogurt is a highly consumed natural probiotic food. Yogurt is prepared by fermenting milk, especially cow’s milk.

    The milk fermentation allows bacteria to grow, breaking the milk’s lactose into digestible particles making it beneficial[18] for your gut health.

    Additionally, sour dairy yogurt contains[19] many vitamins and minerals like Vitamin K, A, potassium, and calcium.

  • Tempeh

    Tempeh is nutty and crunchy, soy-based probiotic food people consume as a snack. It is prepared by fermenting the soybeans and shaping them into a block or patty.

    Tempeh contains[20] helpful microbes like Rhizopus oligosporus and Lactobacillus Plantarum, which may help improve digestion.

    Moreover, fermenting soybeans may increase their bioavailability, resulting in additional health benefits[21].

  • Fermented Veggies

    Fermentation helps in boosting the probiotic levels in food.

    You might ferment any vegetable, including garlic, cucumber, carrots, chilies, etc., to improve their probiotic concentration.

    Generally, the fermented vegetable pickles that people regularly consume as a side item.

    But, pickles, especially homemade, could be beneficial[22] in increasing the friendly microbes levels in the gut.

Probiotics Side Effects

  • Headaches

    Biogenic amines[23] are formed when you excessively consume protein-rich foods. Probiotic-rich foods are high in protein resulting in an increased production of biogenic amines.

    These amines excite the central nervous system and cause irregular blood flow resulting[24] in headaches.

  • Acid Reflux

    Acid reflux is a condition[25] in which the gut acid travels back to the food pipe. The disease could be caused due to excessive concentration of acid in the gut.

    Generally, when probiotics kill foreign or harmful bacteria, they release toxins, especially acid that gets stored in the stomach.

    Excessive accumulation of these acids may cause acid reflux in some individuals.

  • Allergic Reactions On The Skin

    Some people have reported allergic reactions like itching or rashes on their skin due to probiotic consumption.

    Friendly bacteria excrete toxins through the skin pores that may cause these reactions.

    But, the condition may arise due to excessive intake of probiotics or poor formulation of probiotic supplements.

  • May Increase Histamine Levels In The Body

    Histamine release is an immune response to potential threats. Some friendly bacteria synthesize histamine to release them during threats.

    Hence, it suddenly increases histamine concentration in the body.

    Due to increased histamine levels, blood cells experience a conformational change in shape and allow immune cells to pass through them to prevent areas under attack.

    Moreover, dilated blood cells would increase the blood flow resulting in swelling and redness. Some people may observe allergic reactions[26] like runny nose, watery eyes, etc.

  • May Cause Gas And Bloating

    Gas and bloating are some common side effects observed after probiotic consumption.

    The study[27] showed that when people consume probiotic-rich food, their gut experiences microbiome adjusting.

    During such a process, the friendly microbes release some gas trapped in the stomach, leading to bloating.

Conclusion

Probiotics or friendly microbes are an integral part of the human gut. They take part in multiple metabolic activities and prevent the body from microbial attacks.

But, it may cause a few side effects that may vanish after adjusting to the probiotic diet.

You may consume probiotic-rich food items or probiotic supplements to balance the healthy microbes numbers.

However, natural probiotic foods are always a better option to distance the body from significant side effects.

References/Sources

Working4Health prefers using primary and verified references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and our primary references include peer-reviewed research, academic, and medical institution studies.

  1. Probiotics: What You Need To Know Last Updated: August 2019 Available from: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know
  2. A.A. Amara and A. Shibl Role of Probiotics in health improvement, infection control and disease treatment and management Saudi Pharm J. 2015 Apr; 23(2): 107–114.Published online 2013 Jul 18. doi: 10.1016/j.jsps.2013.07.001
  3. Fang Yan and D.B. Polk Probiotics and immune health Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2011 Oct; 27(6): 496–501.doi: 10.1097/MOG.0b013e32834baa4d
  4. Dinyadarshini Johnson, Sivakumar Thurairajasingam, Vengadesh Letchumanan, et al. Exploring the Role and Potential of Probiotics in the Field of Mental Health: Major Depressive Disorder Nutrients. 2021 May; 13(5): 1728.Published online 2021 May 20. doi: 10.3390/nu13051728
  5. Shubham Misra and Bikash Medhi Role of probiotics as memory enhancer Indian J Pharmacol. 2013 May-Jun; 45(3): 311–312.
    doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.111917
  6. Hana Koutnikova, Bernd Genser, Milena Monteiro-Sepulveda, et al. Impact of bacterial probiotics on obesity, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease related variables: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials BMJ Open. 2019; 9(3): e017995.Published online 2019 Mar 30. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017995
  7. Michał Wiciński, Jakub Gębalski, Jakub Gołębiewski, et al. Probiotics for the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Humans—A Review of Clinical Trials Microorganisms. 2020 Aug; 8(8): 1148.Published online 2020 Jul 29. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms8081148
  8. Sophia J Oak, Rajesh Jha The effects of probiotics in lactose intolerance: A systematic review Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(11):1675-1683. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2018.1425977. Epub 2018 Feb 9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29425071/
  9. Hania Szajewska, Alfredo Guarino, Iva Hojsak, et al. Use of probiotics for management of acute gastroenteritis: a position paper by the ESPGHAN Working Group for Probiotics and Prebiotics J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Apr;58(4):531-9. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000000320. Available from:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24614141/
  10. Stefano Guandalini Probiotics for prevention and treatment of diarrhea J Clin Gastroenterol. 2011 Nov;45 Suppl:S149-53. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e3182257e98. Available from:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21992955/
  11. Tina Didari, Shilan Mozaffari, Shekoufeh Nikfar, et al. Effectiveness of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Updated systematic review with meta-analysis World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Mar 14; 21(10): 3072–3084.Published online 2015 Mar 14. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i10.3072
  12. Israr Khan, Yanrui Bai, Lajia Zha, et al. Mechanism of the Gut Microbiota Colonization Resistance and Enteric Pathogen Infection Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2021; 11: 716299.Published online 2021 Dec 23. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2021.716299
  13. Lang Wang, Mao-Juan Guo, Qing Gao, et al. The effects of probiotics on total cholesterol Medicine (Baltimore). 2018 Feb; 97(5): e9679.Published online 2018 Feb 2. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000009679
  14. REAL SAUERKRAUT FDC Published:4/1/2019 Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/561129/nutrients
  15. Christa Raak, Thomas Ostermann, Katja Boehm, et al. Regular Consumption of Sauerkraut and Its Effect on Human Health: A Bibliometric Analysis Glob Adv Health Med. 2014 Nov; 3(6): 12–18.Published online 2014 Nov 1. doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2014.038
  16. SNAPDRAGON KIMCHI FDC Published:4/1/2019 Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/454784/nutrients
  17. Kun-Young Park, Ji-Kang Jeong, Young-Eun Lee, et al. Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food J Med Food. 2014 Jan;17(1):6-20. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2013.3083. Available from:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24456350/
  18. Yogurt Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/yogurt/
  19. GREEK YOGURT REAL FRUIT FDC Published:4/1/2019 Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/526852/nutrients
  20. TOFURKY, TEMPEH ORGANIC SOY CAKE FDC Published:4/1/2019 Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/365601/nutrients
  21. Amadeus Driando Ahnan-Winarno, Lorraine Cordeiro, Florentinus Gregorius Winarno, et al. Tempeh: A semicentennial review on its health benefits, fermentation, safety, processing, sustainability, and affordability Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf
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  22. Nevin Şanlier, Büşra Başar Gökcen, Aybüke Ceyhun Sezgin Health benefits of fermented foods Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(3):506-527. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355. Epub 2017 Oct 20. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28945458/
  23. Kenneth J Broadley, M Akhtar Anwar, Amy A Herbert, et al. Effects of dietary amines on the gut and its vasculature Br J Nutr. 2009 Jun;101(11):1645-52. doi: 10.1017/S0007114508123431. Epub 2008 Nov 19. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19017420/
  24. Vincent T Martin, Brinder Vij Diet and Headache: Part 1 Headache. 2016 Oct;56(9):1543-1552. doi: 10.1111/head.12953. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27699780/
  25. Catiele Antunes; Abdul Aleem; Sean A. Curtis. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Last Update: July 4, 2022. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441938/
  26. Bruno Mondovi, Wieslawa A Fogel, Rodolfo Federico, et al. Effects of amine oxidases in allergic and histamine-mediated conditions Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov. 2013 Jan 1;7(1):20-34. Available from:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22946464/
  27. J H Cummings and G T Macfarlane Gastrointestinal effects of prebiotics Br J Nutr. 2002 May;87 Suppl 2:S145-51. doi: 10.1079/BJNBJN/2002530. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12088511/

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