Blog posts tagged with 'probiotics'

by Natasha Trenev

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), also known as acid reflux, takes place when the contents of your stomach back up out of the stomach and into your esophagus. The stomach content is highly acidic and can ‘burn’ the lining of your esophagus causing heartburn, a painful, burning feeling in the middle of the chest or abdomen. It can also cause bad breath, nausea, painful swallowing, respiratory problems, vomiting and damage to your teeth.

GER is typically used to refer to people who have occasional heartburn, while GERD, the ‘D’ standing for disease, describes a more serious version in which a person experiences heartburn more than twice a week for a few weeks.

GERD can affect anyone, but you’re more likely to experience it if you are overweight, pregnant, taking certain medications, a smoker or regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. GER can also progress as people age if the valve between the esophagus and stomach becomes weak.

For most people, it’s an occasional discomfort, however, anyone experiencing heartburn regularly should seek medical care because, left untreated, it can lead to inflammation and swelling of the esophagus to the point of disrupting swallowing, causing respiratory problems, leading to precancerous changes to the esophagus, or Barrett’s esophagus — which can lead to a rare, but deadly type of cancer of the esophagus.

Is There a Microbial Connection?

Several scientific studies have established the idea that a complex group of microbes that live in our esophagus might play a role in GER. One of the first teams to explore this idea was lead by Yang and coworkers at the New York University School of Medicine in 2009. They discovered two distinct groups of microbes living within the esophagus. The first type was associated with a normal esophagus and dominated by gram-positive bacteria. The second type was dominated by gram-negative species and occurred more frequently in people with reflux issues and Barrett’s esophagus. They concluded their study stating that there was a possible role for dysbiosis in the pathogenesis of reflux-related disorders. Dysbiosis meaning a microbial imbalance — in other words the “bad” bacteria might be out of balance and enough of the “good” bacteria may not be present.

Just a few years before, another group from the United Kingdom reported high levels of Campylobacter species (a type of bacteria) in people with Barrett’s esophagus. This was a particularly interesting finding because Campylobacter species had previously been linked to inflammation in the small intestine, gum disease, and even tumor formation in animals. They noted that 57% of the patients with Barrett’s esophagus tested positive for Campylobacter species while none of the control subjects did. Now, there were at least two studies suggesting a link between the bacteria in the esophagus and gastric reflux issues. However, it remained unclear if the changes in the bacteria occurred before or after the onset of reflux issues. Researchers agreed that larger studies were needed to determine the causal relationship the bacteria might play.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for those larger studies to be completed so more definitive conclusions can be made about the cause of reflux and the role that microbes, like bacteria, may play. Let’s change gears for a moment and look at some of the most common GERD treatments and how they, too, may be leading to further dysbiosis of the microbes in the body.

The Problems with Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s)

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s) are the most widely sold and used drugs in the world. Examples of PPI’s include esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec) among others. They work by lowering the amount of acid your stomach makes and are considered more effective than over-the-counter H2 blockers like cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid AC), or ranitidine (Zantac). The American Gastroenterological Association lists a number of potential risks of long-term PPI use including kidney disease, dementia, fractures, infections and vitamin/mineral deficiencies. While short-term use of PPI’s can be very effective, it’s obvious from the long-term negative effects that a more natural approach without such side effects would be ideal.

The highly acidic environment of the stomach is not only important for the digestion of the food we eat, but also acts as a built-in barrier for pathogens entering the body. By taking medication to lower stomach acid, you may be creating a more welcoming environment for pathogenic viruses, bacteria and fungi to enter the body. In fact, one recent study showed that 46% of patients taking an acid-suppressing medication had bacterial overgrowth in their stomach and in their lungs. The researchers also noted an increased prevalence of potentially pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus and Streptococcus in the patients taking acid-suppressing medications. This overgrowth means more pathogens may be present and this leads to an increased risk of infections.

Another study compared fecal samples from 1,827 twins and showed that the bacterial families that increased with PPI use were more likely to be related to those found in the mouth or throat and it was not just an overgrowth of the commensal bacteria known to exist in the healthy gut. Both of these studies indicate that PPI’s may be further adding to the problem of dysbiosis, or imbalance, between the amount of “good” and “bad” bacteria present.

Could Probiotics Help Reflux?

If dysbiosis is part of the problem, the next logical question is: Can good probiotic bacteria help restore the microbial imbalance by tipping the scale back toward a friendlier bacterial load? Research on probiotics for reflux is relatively new and while the studies have been small, the results have been very promising.

A Chinese study of 80 premature infants concluded that, “…probiotics can significantly decrease Gastroesophageal reflux in premature infants.” Another study of 42 infants with regurgitation tested the effects of a Lactobacillus-based probiotic and concluded that, “In infants with functional GER, [the probiotic] reduced gastric distention and accelerated gastric emptying. In addition, this probiotic strain seems to diminish the frequency of regurgitation.” In other words, the probiotics were somehow speeding up the time food remained in the stomach. They theorized that by reducing the time food was in the stomach, they were reducing the amount of acid the stomach had to produce to keep up with the digestive processes.

Yet another study, using Bifidobacterium- and Lactobacillus-based probiotics, confirmed earlier findings that patients taking PPI’s had “strong bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and duodenum” compared to non-PPI users. When given the probiotic supplement, they noted a significant decrease in fecal levels of total coliforms, E. coli, molds, and yeasts indicating that the probiotics could, “…partially restore the gastric barrier effect against food-borne pathogenic bacteria.”

There’s obviously a need for more clinical research with a larger number of participants and research more specific to adult reflux. However we’ve come a considerably long way from where we were 12 years ago when many still thought that no indigenous bacteria even lived in the human esophagus.

Probiotic Benefits

Probiotics have so many well-known benefits it certainly can’t hurt to add this beneficial bacteria to your daily supplement regimen and it may be especially helpful to those taking a PPI who are at a greater risk of developing infections. A single strain probiotic that contains Lactobacillus bulgaricus exclusively could be a GER sufferer’s best choice for better digestion. Under normal conditions, these friendly bacteria in the gut outnumber the unfriendly bacteria, are linked to improved immune function, protect against hostile bacteria, and improve digestion and absorption of food and nutrients — just to name a few.

by Natasha Trenev

Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host,” or, as we like to think of them, simply beneficial microbes, most often of the bacterial kind. Prebiotics are defined as “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit,” or simply thought of as the food source for the probiotics.

Prebiotics are a class of simple carbohydrates that are non-digestible by humans and are found naturally in foods such as leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onion, wheat, banana, oats, as well as soybean. However, you would need to consume a large quantity of these foods for them to have any useful prebiotic effect.

Prebiotics are designed to feed the probiotic supplements and encourage their growth and to feed the bacteria already found in our gut. It sounds like it makes common sense to combine them so you have the total package of the probiotics and the food they need to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, that’s only half of the story.

Prebiotics Feed the ‘Bad’ Bacteria, Too

Prebiotics are designed to provide the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract with a food substance that encourages their growth. However, when you take a prebiotic, you have no control over which bacteria are benefiting and proliferating because of it. Therefore, you may be feeding the bad bacteria along with the good bacteria. Scientific evidence has shown that by taking a prebiotic, we are also encouraging yeast growth and the growth of potentially harmful bacteria such as Klebsiella, E. coli, and Salmonella. Klebsiella has been identified as one of the “big three” gram-negative pathogenic bacteria with growing antibiotic resistance in the United States and abroad.

If the balance of bacteria in your gut is already unhealthy and skewed in favor of bad or potentially pathogenic bacteria, taking a prebiotic may just help these species proliferate and make the balance worse.

Prebiotic Side Effects Can Be an Issue

In addition, studies have shown that one commonly used prebiotic known as Fructooligosaccharide (FOS) actually can impair the intestinal barrier (this is exactly what most people are trying to prevent by taking probiotics in the first place). And you might be shocked to know that the list of side effects associated with FOS include diarrhea, abdominal rumbling, bloating, cramping and excessive flatulence. Many people take probiotics to help with digestive upsets, so why would they want to add on a prebiotic with known side effects like this?

Another commonly used prebiotic is called inulin. Inulin is a complex sugar found and extracted from the roots of various plants. Researchers from the University of Helsinki and the University of Montana studied mice fed with inulin prebiotic diets, and discovered shifts in the total bacterial community, including the discovery of previously unknown bacterial strains. Other studies have reported the increased potential for intestinal tumors and colon cancer in mice fed inulin supplemented diets. These studies strongly suggest a negative aspect to the use of inulin as a prebiotic.

The Intrinsic Supernatant

All probiotics are live organisms that require nourishment in order to survive and flourish, and what sets some probiotics apart from the rest is knowing if they contain their own intrinsic supernatant or not. During the process of making probiotics, the live bacteria must be provided with a nutritionally-balanced food base formulation that is specifically selected for each bacteria strain to optimize the potential health-promoting properties of the bacteria. This food source allows them to grow, multiply and thrive. As the bacteria grow, not only do they transform this surrounding ‘food’ (aka culturing medium) into an active and very essential byproduct known as the supernatant, but they also produce and release very powerful active substances like hydrogen peroxide and acidophilin and vitamins into the supernatant. These byproducts then enhance the health properties of the probiotics.

The supernatant becomes the natural food source and therefore the natural prebiotic specific to the probiotics being grown. The problem is, during the manufacturing process, many companies exclude this important growth medium in favor of collecting higher numbers of bacterial cells into their final product. It’s an added expense to include the intrinsic supernatant in the final probiotic product. However, the benefit to the consumer is that probiotics that include the intrinsic supernatant (aka growth medium) are carrying their own food source with them so there is no need to combine them with additional prebiotics. Since the supernatant already provides specifically designed food for the good bacteria, there is no need to add fillers such as FOS or inulin to these probiotics.

[article reposted with permission from]

by Natasha Trenev

The idea that the bacteria that live in the warm, dark recesses of your gut have health benefits is an intriguing one. After all, most people think bacteria are the “bad guys.” These days, it’s clear that not all bacteria cause illness and some types of bacteria you might actually want to have around. The “good” bacteria you want to cultivate help support the health of your gut and your gut associated lymphoid tissue — the portion of your immune system that lies in your intestinal tract. After hearing so much about the health benefits of gut-friendly bacteria, called probiotics, you’re probably convinced you need more of the beneficial ones — but why? How do probiotic bacteria exert their benefits?

Probiotic Bacteria Aid Digestion

As you know, your intestinal tract is where the nutrients you take in through diet are absorbed. However, only some of the food components that enter your digestive tract can be broken down and absorbed by your body. Humans lack the enzymes to break down some types of plant material. Some of the fiber and resistant starch you can’t digest conveniently becomes lunch or dinner for bacteria that live in your gut.

When these hungry gut bacteria break down the fiber for you, they produce compounds called short-chain fatty acids, two of the most common of which are butyrate and acetate. These compounds help keep the lining of your colon healthy. The cells in your colon use these short-chain fatty acids to produce the energy they need to fuel the functions necessary to keep your colon healthy. Some preliminary studies suggest short-chain fatty acids made by good gut bacteria might lower the risk of colon cancer. Production of short-chain fatty acids by gut bacteria may partially explain why high-fiber diets seem to offer some protection against this.

Probiotic Bacteria Help Balance the Gut

When probiotic bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, it also lowers the pH or acid-base balance of the lining of your intestinal tract. That’s beneficial, since disease-causing bacteria typically don’t grow well in an acidic environment. Therefore, probiotic bacteria create a hostile environment that discourages the growth of bacteria that cause illness. Probiotic bacteria can also block the growth of sinister bacteria by competing for the resources they need to survive. When good bacteria are around they use up vital nutrients, making it harder for bad bacteria to get the nutritional components they require to stay alive. Some probiotic bacteria produce substances called bacteriocins that directly block the growth of harmful bacteria, as well as chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, that stymie the development of bad bacteria and yeast.

Probiotic Bacteria and Absorption

Probiotic bacteria also produce beneficial substances. These organisms release enzymes that break down components from the foods you eat so you can absorb them more easily. In addition, the acidic environment probiotic bacteria create, increases the absorption of minerals, including calcium, magnesium and zinc. Having a healthy population of gut bacteria helps you maximize absorption of these essential minerals.

Probiotic Bacteria and Immunity

Another way probiotic bacteria exert their benefits is by their effects on immune function. Your immune system is your first line of defense against viruses, bacteria and fungi and plays a protective role in many diseases. As researchers point out, one of the reasons older people have a harder time fighting off infection is that their immune system doesn’t function the same as that of a younger person. We know that a huge portion of your immune system, between 70% and 80%, is in your gut, making it the largest immune organ in your body. Gut bacteria have the ability to communicate with immune cells and influence their function, giving them the capacity to subtly alter immune function.

Research suggests probiotic bacteria help maintain immune balance as well. Your immune system is designed to launch an organized attack against foreign invaders, but an overly zealous attack can harm normal tissues, leading to inflammation. Probiotic bacteria help preserve immune system balance.

Because some food allergies involve an overreaction by the immune system, there’s thought that probiotic bacteria could help children avoid food allergies. More recently, some experts point out that some food intolerances, which are different from a food allergy, may be due to a damaged gut lining, also known as a “leaky gut.” The lining of your gut is very thin, only a single cell layer thick and is held together by connections called tight junctions, which are easily damaged. When the gut lining and its tight junctions are injured, which can happen when you take certain medications or due to stress, it allows food components and even bacteria to enter your bloodstream. These proteins, once in the bloodstream, can theoretically activate the immune system and lead to inflammation and tissue damage. By helping maintain a healthy gut lining, probiotic gut bacteria could be beneficial for people with food sensitivities, intolerances and for leaky gut. The lining of your digestive tract serves as a barrier that protects you against bacteria and other harmful components in the food you eat and probiotic bacteria help to strengthen this barrier function.

Bacteria “Talk” to Each Other

Another interesting way probiotic bacteria may benefit your intestinal health is by the messages they send to bad bacteria. Infection-causing bacteria communicate with each other through a process called “quorum sensing.” Through this form of communication, bacteria get a better idea of what’s going on around them. For example, the bacteria in your gut want to know whether there are enough nutrients to support their growth. If there’s a lack of nutrients, they slow their replication to ensure their survival.

Research suggests some types of probiotic bacteria have the ability to block communication pathways bad bacteria use to “talk” to each other. When infection-causing bacteria can no longer communicate with each other, their chances for survival drops because they’re less aware of what’s going on around them. Blocking communication pathways between bad bacteria is a way to limit their growth and survival.

In addition, communication between good bacteria can be beneficial. For example, probiotic bacteria have the ability to enhance the growth of other good bacteria within the ecosystem. One species of gut-friendly bacteria might send a message to another species of probiotic bacteria, letting it know conditions are favorable and to reproduce more. As a result, your gut becomes healthier.

The Bottom Line

Despite the fact that the research explaining how probiotics work is still in its infancy, their health-related benefits have been noted for hundreds of years. Research continues to uncover the characteristics and habits of the probiotic bacteria that live in our gut and it’s exciting to better understand exactly how they are benefiting us and how we can supplement this unique eco-system within our bodies. Having a healthy population of gut bacteria is essential for optimizing your health. Don’t underestimate the potential of your gut bacteria.

[article reposted with permission from]