My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritional Consultant, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

12 Jan 2013

The latest on probiotics

Beyond Digestion: The Latest Research on Probiotics

Television commercials might have you convinced that probiotics are needed mainly for a healthy digestive system and to help promote a flat belly. These are important benefits, but the live, health-enhancing microorganisms offer protection outside of the digestive system, too. More and more research is proving the benefits of lactic acid-producing probiotics to the entire body and to overall health. You might be surprised to learn that about 70 percent of the immune system is located in the large intestine as a vast network of lymph tissue referred to as GALT, or Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue. Probiotics in the intestines are constantly interacting with this tissue and preparing the rest of the body’s immune system for contact with other bacteria. Think of them as teaching the body to respond to a bacterial attack without actually having to suffer an infection.

Science is currently exploring various health benefits that probiotics can offer. Here is a synopsis of some of the ongoing areas of research:  
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common - if not the most common - digestive disorder, affecting anywhere from 11 to 20 percent of adults. The major symptoms, gas, bloating, and cramping, are often accompanied by bouts of constipation alternating with diarrhea. Drug treatments haven’t been successful, but European research has suggested that an imbalance of healthy to unhealthy intestinal organisms may be a significant contributor to the condition. In one study, IBS patients noticed significant improvement of symptoms after only two weeks of supplementation with probiotics. At the present time, there is enough evidence to recommend that IBS sufferers regularly supplement with probiotics for the reduction of pain, bloating, and gas.

Dental/Oral Health
They’ve only recently been introduced in dentistry and oral medicine, but science is suggesting a promising role for probiotics as a treatment for various dental conditions in the future. The first randomized controlled trials have shown that the live microorganisms may control dental caries in children by inhibiting cariogenic streptococci, or bacteria that promotes tooth decay. Presently, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest the role of probiotics in periodontal disease or oral yeast infections; however these areas are still being explored. Research is also investigating the most effective means of delivering probiotics into the mouth for optimal results. Dairy products are an option, but probiotic chewing gum and lozenges are being examined as potential vehicles as well.

Blood Pressure
Probiotics have not traditionally been considered part of the treatment for hypertension, but a Japanese study showed that supplementing with probiotics led to a decrease in both systolic and diastolic pressure almost immediately, as compared with the placebo group, and a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure after four weeks of supplementation in those with high-normal blood pressure or mild hypertension.

Mental Health
An emerging area of research on probiotics involves their relationship to mental health. Since a number of neurochemicals, including GABA, norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine, are produced not only in the brain, but also by various microbes in the gut, it isn’t farfetched that probiotics may soon be used to modulate brain chemicals and mood. GABA, for example, reduces stress and anxiety (and incidentally, may reduce inflammation in cases of Irritable Bowel Disease). Currently, experiments with mice are showing promising results. One study found that as certain intestinal bacteria decreased, immune biomarkers and inflammation increased. 

Probiotics are also being examined for their influence on obesity, allergies, childhood immunity, cancer, as well as several other conditions, and their impact on vaginal infections is already well established.

By and large, there is sufficient scientific support to recommend the regular use of probiotics to improve or protect overall health, and Health Canada recommends including at least one source of probiotics in your diet or supplementation regimen daily.

The best known example of a probiotic-rich food is plain, organic yogurt, but other fermented foods containing similar bacteria include miso, sauerkraut, and kefir. If these foods aren’t part of your daily diet, or if you suffer from a health condition that could benefit from probiotics, don’t delay - introduce a daily supplement right away.   

Healthy Tip: A child`s immune system isn't fully developed until age seven, and a probiotic-rich diet, plus adequate supplementation may help to prevent childhood allergies, eczema, asthma, and infections. It is safe to administer probiotics to newborns by placing it on the tongue or adding it to baby formula. Expectant mothers should consider taking larger doses of probiotic supplements in the days prior to delivery. Probiotics help to strengthen a mother`s defenses against infections that could potentially be passed on to their newborn, and may help to prevent preterm labour. Also, one study showed that new mothers who took probiotic supplements lost body fat faster than those who didn't.

Saavedra JM. Gac Med Mex. 2011;147 Suppl 1:9-21.

Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2009 Aug;101(8):553-64. Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with probiotics. An etiopathogenic approach at last?

J Clin Gastroenterol. 2004 Jul;38(6 Suppl):S104-6. Probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.

Gawrońska A, Dziechciarz P, Horvath A, Szajewska H., Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Jan 15;25(2):177-84. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of Lactobacillus GG for abdominal pain disorders in children.

Dental/Oral health: 
Stamatova I, Meurman JH. Am J Dent. 2009 Dec;22(6):329-38. Probiotics: health benefits in the mouth.
Blood Pressure:
Aihara K, Kajimoto O, Hirata H, Takahashi R, Nakamura Y. Effect of powdered fermented milk with Lactobacillus helveticus on subjects with high-normal blood pressure or mild hypertension. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Aug;24(4):257-65.

Mental Health:
M. Lyte, BioEssays, 2011, Probiotics function mechanistically as delivery vehicles for neuroactive compounds: Microbial Endocrinology in the design and use of probiotics.

G. Reid, BioEssays, 2011, Neuroactive probiotics.

Bailey MT et al., Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2011, Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation.