For the purpose of this discussion, we are paying attention specifically to bacteria, although the general phrase “microorganism” can encompass all sorts of microbes. When considering the germs that inhabit our digestive tract, we usually divide them into two types: favorable bacteria (not harmful) such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, and possibly destructive bacteria (disease-producing) like enteropathic (EPEC) and enterohemorrhagic (EHEC) Escherichia coli, Shigella, and Clostridioides difficile. Although it is far more intricate than one could think, there is a convenient approach to differentiate which bacterias tend to support our well-being or damage it. Good microbes help control disease-causing organisms and provide numerous advantages to health. Pathogenic bacteria emit proteins and dangerous derivatives which can trigger irritation and detrimental effects like diarrhea. Certain amounts of Helicobacter pylori can be both helpful and detrimental depending on the amount.
An equilibrium between advantageous and harmful bacteria is essential for preserving well-being. Having a diverse range of microorganisms in our gut microbiome is essential – a more diverse environment makes it easier for our digestive system to regain equilibrium if it is disrupted. This equilibrium can be disturbed because of a few reasons, such as diet, stress, cleanliness, and the usage of particular medications, like antibiotics. Imbalances in the microbial population can lead to dysbiosis.
At present, it is difficult to assess or assess the intestines microflora of a person visiting a doctor for digestive problems. Some health providers may give breathing tests to find out if particular germs are present, however, these tests are rarely useful.
Modifying the Microbiome
There are many ways to treat and manage dysbiosis. In instances of bacterial contamination, antibiotics can possibly eliminate the problematic bacteria. When the difficulty is continuous, using probiotics and prebiotics can help bring harmony back to the microbiome. A further tactic is to replenish the microbiota or reintroduce bacteria to bolster an individual’s microbial environment. In this section, we will explain how these tools can be put to use in order to influence the gut.
The accepted description of probiotics is “living microorganisms that give a health advantage if taken in the correct amounts.
Let’s break down each part of this definition:
- Live microorganisms: This refers to the strain or strains of beneficial bacteria that must be alive when consumed.
- Adequate amounts: Each probiotic must be associated with an effective dosage, and this dosage is arrived at through clinical study or studies. The measurement you are probably most familiar with reading on a probiotic label is CFU or colony-forming units. This tells us how many bacteria in the sample are capable of dividing and forming colonies. AFU (active fluorescent units) is a new form of measurement, which allows for a more precise measurement of all viable cells, including those that are effective but not necessarily culturable (and would not be counted in a traditional CFU measurement).
- Must confer a health benefit: This means that each specific strain (not just the species) must have been clinically studied and shown to be beneficial.
- Host: That’s you!
Why are probiotics important?
Almost nothing can be done by the human body without the participation of microorganisms. Regularly, fresh discoveries appear that broaden our insight into human body microbiomes and their influence on well-being and sickness.
Many individuals equate probiotics with gut health. However, we realize that this approach does not capture the full possibilities of probiotic usage. The intricacy of bodily functions is well-established, and the digestive system is a key component in that structure. The condition of your gastrointestinal system affects how well your immune system works, plus having an impact on your cardiovascular and skin health. Hence, oral probiotics can both support digestion in specific areas and create beneficial outcomes in other areas of the body.
How do probiotics work?
Most people think incorrectly that probiotics settle in the digestive tract, but this is not true. The amount of probiotics most people consume is not nearly enough to have a noteworthy impact on the trillions of microbes existing in their intestinal tract relative to the existing microbiota.
Researchers understand that probiotics journey through the colon temporarily as microscopic organisms, working together with the already present microorganisms, gastrointestinal cells, immune cells, and diet components to indirectly and directly offer advantages.
Sarah Lebeer, Ph.D., professor of applied microbiology and biotechnology at the University of Antwerp, shared in a recent lecture that probiotics can have five main modes of action:
- Interact with existing microbiome: Probiotics can regulate the composition and activity of resident microbes by inhibiting potential pathogens as well as stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria as an extra defense against pathogens. Probiotics can also affect digestive capacity and stool consistency and frequency.
- Enhance gut-barrier function: Probiotics can stimulate the intestinal epithelial barrier (cell wall) function and prevent pathogens or inflammatory compounds from crossing the gut barrier, which can lead to inflammation or illness.
- Fine-tune immune response: Probiotics can balance and improve local and systemic immune responses by interacting with specific receptors and modulating certain pathways and cells of the immune system.
- Initiate important metabolic functions: Probiotics can produce vitamins, amino acids, or enzymes (such as lactase and bile salt hydrolases) that have beneficial impacts on metabolic health, from cholesterol levels to blood sugar balance.
- Impact on neurological function: Probiotics can modulate neurologic functions via the gut-brain axis because they can produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), both of which have a tremendous impact on mental and emotional health.
Which bacterial strains should be focused on when selecting a probiotic? Does this differ from person to person?
As mentioned, strain specificity is critical. Within each variety of bacteria, there may be hundreds or even thousands of different variants. Contemplate it thus: Although Canis lupus familiaris is the species of which golden retrievers, French bulldogs, and wolves are all members, they contain great distinctions from one another. Different varieties of bacteria, even when they are members of the same species, can vary drastically.
It is essential to choose the best strain for each use, whether it is to remedy digestive problems or skin eruptions, as the distinctions among strains are noteworthy. It is essential to identify which strains have been scientifically tested to show a positive impact on the human body, and these need to form part of the probiotic product in amounts that are appropriate.
The main point is that it is crucial to make sure that the substance you are taking has been studied in humans; not only to demonstrate that it is beneficial, but also to confirm its safety. The health needs of every person will be different and will require different probiotics, but it is not necessary to have a completely personalized probiotic.
In 2012, after a steady period of study, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that “no one microbiome is beneficial for everyone,” however, specific strains which have been shown to be advantageous for their host, have been reported to have health benefits.
It was discovered that the metabolic activity of our microbiome is even more important than which individual microbial organisms are there. This means that the activities of your bacteria are much more significant than their identities.
Studies of probiotics currently focus on particular types of helpful bacteria that have displayed a positive effect on humans, regardless of their initial microbiome.
Which of the most pervasive falsehoods about probiotics do you strive to correct?
A commonly held misconception is that fermented foods provide the same benefits as taking probiotics supplements. Fermented foods may have a probiotic component, but they often do not meet the worldwide scientific requirements to be considered as such. However, your beloved pickled treats such as kombucha or yogurt can be good for your health assuming you stay away from any added sugar – something which however, sadly, cancels out many of these advantages.
Let’s look at traditional sauerkraut as an example. It is possible that the bacterial species L. plantarum may be included, but without a distinct strain and amount, it cannot be said that these microorganisms are probiotics.
However, if the sauerkraut contains the specific bacterium L. plantarum 299V, in the correct amount and is still viable, it is possible for it to be classified as a probiotic-rich product that has been fermented.
An alternative means of boosting the beneficial bacteria count in your gut is to provide nourishment to the existing good bacteria so that they multiply and make up a greater portion of your microbiota. Certain types of carbohydrates found in our food are indigestible, and this is referred to as fiber. Different forms of dietary fiber are found in various types of food, and helpful bacteria tend to make use of some of these. These special fibers are prebiotics. Inulin, a form of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), is probably the best-recognized and most extensively investigated prebiotic. It is present in lots of plants, including chicory, grains, onion, garlic, asparagus, tomato, banana, and Jerusalem artichokes. Benefibre (inulin) is a form of chicory regularly sold in stores, although there are many different varieties available. Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) are connected in sequences that can be located in breast milk, foods that have been fermented, beans, and various root vegetables. These are basically plant sugars.
When you consume these foods, the prebiotics remain unaltered as they pass through the stomach and small intestine. Afterwards, the bacteria in the large intestine are able to break down the fibers by means of a process called fermentation, which they use as a form of energy. This permits the microorganisms to propagate, resulting in larger groups of beneficial microbes.
It is wrong to assume that such products as yogurt and sauerkraut include probiotic properties given that they are fermented. As we talked about previously, probiotics can only be considered valid if they hold a specific amount and variety of living microbes, based upon established scientific proof for selected illnesses. Fermented foods contain the microorganisms that initiated the fermentation. The bacteria present in these products may differ, and so it is uncertain whether or not they will remain alive in your intestines upon digestion. Taking probiotic supplements is a more dependable means of raising the amounts of helpful bacteria in the intestine than eating fermented products.
Fermented foods are not necessarily teeming with microbes, however, in the majority of situations, they are secure and could potentially be advantageous. Including items such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha in your diet, if compatible with your food regimen, may enhance the effectiveness of probiotics you’re taking to control digestive problems. If you have a weakened immune system (normally due to taking medications such as steroids, biologicals, or immunosuppressants to treat Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), it is wise to talk to your doctor before consuming fermented food. This is because it can be difficult for your body to fight off any microorganisms that might be in the food.
A lot of the advantages of bacteria in the gut are not gotten from the organisms directly, but rather from the compounds that they produce as a result of their metabolism (excretion). When bacteria consume food, they expel waste, and even though this may sound unpleasant, these byproducts can be useful to us. For instance, when bifidobacteria ingest fiber, they generate short-chain fatty acids, which are beneficial to our bodies; they help enhance immune function and reinforce the intestinal wall.
Scientists have been investigating the potential of bringing the result of the study directly to the intestinal tract. This could provide a solution for avoiding the difficulty of introducing living organisms into the digestive tract without damage and instead give the advantages directly. Moreover, this might be an avenue for those who are not able to fight off infections due to weak immune systems to gain the advantages of probiotics.
You are probably very familiar with antibiotics. If you have ever suffered from a bacterial infection, your doctor would likely give you a medication like amoxicillin to eradicate the bacteria. While antibiotics can get rid of the germs that make you ill, they can also destroy helpful bacteria. This can lead to ailments being contracted due to the lack of helpful bacteria to counter the negative microorganisms. For example, antibiotic use is a common cause of yeast infections and infections caused by Clostridioides difficile (formerly known as Clostridium difficile). Sometimes C. difficile infection keeps reappearing as the microbiome is too unbalanced to correct itself.
On occasion, probiotic use following a round of antibiotics may help restore microbiome stability by populating it in a helpful way. In many instances, it is unnecessary and could prevent the microbiome from recovering in a timely manner.
Different antibiotics are not made alike; there are presently existing kinds and kinds in the process of being created which focus on particular bacteria rather than the whole microbial group. An example is the prescription drug rifaximin (Zaxine). It is used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and hepatic encephalopathy by attacking the dangerous bacteria in the intestine while having a minimal effect on the helpful ones.
The goal of microbiome restoration is to reintroduce a wide variety of gut bacteria to cure ailments such as continual C. difficile infection. An alternate method is to perform a fecal microbiota transfer, or FMT, which involves moving stool from a person in good health into the intestinal tract of another person. FMT can be achieved through various methods including enemas, colonoscopies, or ingesting pills. After a transplant, the transplanted person’s intestinal tract will be populated with beneficial bacteria, which will restore the balance of microbes in the gut and help to stop the return of C. difficile.
Many companies are currently producing products to restore the body’s microbiota. These items, just like FMT, strive to restore various intestinal bacteria to treat medical conditions. Research began with recurrent cases of C. difficile and is aimed at producing a secure and effective Health Canada-approved microbial restoration. Products could be accessible within the next two years.
Abnormal balance of the intestinal microbes has been related to multiple gastrointestinal and other illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, being overweight, colon cancer, asthma, diabetes, neurological issues, cardiovascular illness, and autoimmune diseases. Scientists have also been analyzing the consequences of FMT and the recovery of microbes on the results of these conditions.