It’s a very strange thought, but there are nine times as many bacteria living in your digestive tract than there are human cells in your entire body. That means that there are more of them than you in you!
Everybody knows about probiotics. It is, by now, well established that probiotics help fight candida, the side effects of probiotics and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
But here are 12 recently discovered benefits of probiotics that might really surprise you!
This surprising triple-blind study gave either probiotics or a placebo to 40 healthy people for four weeks. The probiotics actually significantly reduced negative thoughts associated with a sad mood compared to placebo. The positive effect was mostly because of reduced rumination and aggressive thoughts. This is the first ever evidence that probiotics can reduce negative thinking associated with sadness (Brain Behav Immun 2015; 48:258-64).
In the first ever study of probiotics and psychological conditions, people with more depression had significantly better improvement in mood on a probiotic than on a placebo (Eur J Clin Nutr 2007;61:355-61). A second study found that a month of probiotic supplementation significantly improved depression and anger (Gut Microbes 2011; 2:256-61).
Since then, the surprising evidence that probiotics help depression has accumulated. A recent meta-analysis of 19 double-blind studies demonstrated that probiotics significantly improve depressive symptoms in people with major depressive disorder (Psychiatry Res 2019 Sep 17:112568).
3. Anxiety & Stress
Probiotics also significantly improve anxiety (Gut Microbes 2011;2:256-61). An earlier study had already hinted at an antianxiety effect for probiotics. A placebo-controlled study of people with chronic fatigue syndrome found that probiotics significantly reduced their anxiety scores (Gut Pathology 2009; 1:6-10). When healthy college students took probiotics in a double-blind study, they had improvement in panic attacks, anxiety, worrying and ability to regulate negative moods (J Affect Disord 2019 Jun 1; 252:271-277).
Studies have also found that probiotics favorably affect stress. One found that, compared to a placebo, probiotics lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol in healthy people (Gut Microbes 2011;2:256-61). A double-blind study of adults with stress found that probiotics significantly improve both stress and anxiety. This study also found that probiotics lower cortisol levels (Benef Microbes 2019 Apr 19; 10(4):355-373).
4. ADHD & Autism
All of the uses of probiotics we’ve looked at so far are new and surprising. But one of the most surprising discoveries about probiotics is that they can reduce the risk of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism.
A remarkable double-blind study gave either probiotics or a placebo to 75 pregnant women, beginning four weeks before their due dates and then continued giving the probiotics to the infants, or to the mothers if they were breast feeding, for six months. The children were then followed for 13 years. What the study discovered was astonishing. 17.1 percent of the children in the placebo group developed ADHD or Asperger’s. Not one child in the probiotic group did. The difference between the two groups was significant (Pediatr Res 2015 Jun; 77(6):823-8pr2015.51).
Though some of the most exciting and surprising discoveries about probiotics have been for psychological health, there have been big surprises for physical health too. Probiotics don’t just help prevent autism and ADHD in babies, they also prevent colic.
A double-blind study gave 52 infants with colic either a placebo or a probiotic for 21 days. Crying and fussing time was significantly shorter in the probiotic group who cried and fussed for 60 minutes a day versus 102 minutes a day in the placebo group. Significantly more infants responded to the probiotic than to the placebo (J Pediatr 2015; 166:74-8).
A second double-blind study gave a probiotic or a placebo to 589 infants for 90 days. Crying time was only 38 minutes per day in the probiotic group but a significantly greater 71 minutes in the placebo group (JAMA Pediatr 2014; 168:228-33).
Other research has also revealed the benefits of probiotics (Am J Clin Nutr 2004; 79:261-7; Pediatrics 2010;126: e526-33).
6. Constipation & Diarrhea
It is well known that probiotics treat the common antibiotic side effect of diarrhea (Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013; doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006095.pub3). Less well known is that probiotics can help diarrhea and constipation from other causes too (Bifidobacteria & Microflora 1991; 10:123-30; Bioscience Microflora 1997; 16:53-8; Bioscience Microflora 1997; 16:73-7; Microbial Ecology in Health & Disease 1999; 11:41-6; J Nutr Food 1998; 1:29- 34).
Probiotics have been shown to improve both constipation (J Nutr Food 2001; 4:1-6; Japanese Journal of Lactic Acid Bacteria 2007; 18:31-6; Journal of Japanese Society of Nutrition & Food Science 1978; 31:379- 387; La Sante 1985; 66:805-10) and diarrhea (Bifidus 1990; 4:21- 4).
7. Allergies & Hay Fever
Several double-blind studies have shown that probiotics improve the symptoms of hay fever (J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol 2006; 16(2):86-93; Clin Experiment Allergy 2006; 36:1425- 35; Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2007; 144:123-7; Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2007; 144:123-7).
When women supplement with probiotics while they are pregnant and give it to their babies for the first two years, at the age of 6, the babies are significantly less likely to suffer from eczema and have significantly improved allergies (Clin Exp Allergy 2013; 43:1048- 57). Probiotics may also be able to reverse allergies to milk in infants (ISME J 2016 Mar; 10(3):742-50).
When kids suffering from allergies take probiotics for 12 weeks, their symptoms improve significantly more than when they take a placebo. They also use less allergy medication (Indian Pediatr 2012; pii: S097475591100603-1).
A double-blind study found that when kids with allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, and asthma were given probiotics, their symptoms and quality of life improved significantly while a placebo group continued to get worse (Ital J Pediatr 2017 Mar 7; 43(1):25).
In perhaps the most impressive allergic rhinitis study, kids with hay fever given probiotics improved significantly and equally to kids given the antihistamine cetirizine. The probiotics had the important advantage of being safer (Pak J Med Sci 2019 Nov-Dec; 35(6):1538-1543).
8. Cold & Flu
Probiotics help fight colds (Adv Ther Respir Dis 2010;4:271–8). Probiotics reduce the number, severity and duration of respiratory diseases, including cold and flu, during the cold season (Carcinogenesis 2008;29(5):1049-56). A review of 14 controlled studies found that when you take probiotics for at least a week, you’re less likely to catch upper respiratory infections, including the common cold (Cochrane Database of Syst Rev 2011; 7:CD006895).
A double-blind study of 135 children between 3 and 7 found that probiotics reduce the risk of an ear, nose and throat, respiratory or GI (gastrointestinal) infection by a significant 25 percent. The probiotic kids also missed less school (Ther Adv Respir Dis 2010; 4(5):271-8).
An interesting double-blind study took a novel approach. There were 225 kids in the study, ranging in age from 3 to 12. The researchers waited until someone in their family got sick with a respiratory infection. They then immediately gave the kids either a placebo or probiotics and prebiotics. Fewer kids in the probiotic group got sick, but the difference was not significant. But here’s the good news. If the kids did get sick, they got better faster if they were taking the probiotic. Their respiratory infections were, on average, a significant two days shorter. The kids who took the probiotics not only had shorter illnesses, but less severe ones: their symptoms were significantly milder (Eur J Clin Nutr 2016; 70:463-9).
Stress is known to weaken the immune system and increase the risk of catching a cold or flu. When 581 students who were stressed due to exams took either a placebo or probiotics for six weeks, the number who suffered one or more colds or flus was significantly lower in the probiotic group. They had a greater number of healthy days, and, when they did succumb to cold or flu, their symptoms were less severe (Br J Nutr 2015; 113:426-34).
Another surprising discovery about probiotics is that they may help arthritis. 45 adults with rheumatoid arthritis added either probiotics or placebo to their arthritis medications for 60 days in a double-blind study. The ones who added the probiotics had significantly less pain. They also had significantly better improvement in the ability to walk two miles, reach and perform daily activities (BMC Complement Altern Med 2010; 10:1).
In an unexpected study, researchers discovered that probiotics could help prevent type 1 diabetes. Compared to newborns who did not receive probiotics, newborns with the highest genetic risk of type 1 diabetes who were given probiotics in the first 27 days of life had 60 percent less risk of islet autoimmunity, a precursor for type 1 diabetes (JAMA Pediatr 2016; 170:20-8).
Probiotics help type 2 diabetes too. A meta-analysis of 12 controlled studies showed that probiotics significantly reduce fasting blood glucose and insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) in type 2 diabetics (Med Clin 2017 Apr 21; 148(8):362-370). A second meta-analysis also found significant improvement in HbA1c, the most important long-term marker of blood sugar and diabetes control, as well as fasting insulin and HOMA-IR (Med Sci Monit 2017 Jun 22; 23:3044-3053).
11. Dental Health
Gingivitis refers to inflammation and bleeding of the gums. If it progresses to periodontitis, then you could experience loose teeth, pain, dental pockets, swelling and even bone destruction. A meta-analysis of three controlled studies compared the conventional treatment of scaling and root planing, a deep cleaning technique that removes plaque and tarter from the tooth both above and below the gum line and smooths the surface of the roots, to the same treatment with the addition of probiotics. Adding the probiotics produced superior results. People who took probiotics had significantly greater improvement in the support and stability of the tooth as measured by clinical attachment level and bleeding upon probing: both markers of periodontitis. They also had significantly greater improvement in pocket depth when the pockets were moderate or deep (Journal of Clinical Periodontology 2016; 43(6):520-30).
Research has also found that probiotics can prevent cavities. One double-blind study of children found that probiotics taken for seven months reduced cavities by 49 percent compared to placebo (Caries Res 2001; 35:412-420). A second study found that supplementing with probiotics during the last month of pregnancy and continuing to give them to infants for the first year results in significantly fewer children with cavities at 9 years of age (Caries Res 2014; 48:111–7).
12. Weight Loss & Heart Health
A number of recent studies have shown that probiotics help with healthy weight. The first looked at 77 obese children. All the children were put on a calorie reduced diet and a physical activity program, but only half of them were put on a probiotic/prebiotic supplement. The study lasted for one month. The kids on the probiotics had significantly more weight loss and decreases in body mass index (BMI) and measures of body fat.
In this study, the children also had significant reductions in oxidative stress. Their total cholesterol and heart harmful LDL cholesterol went down significantly more than in the group that didn’t get the probiotics (Benef Microbes 2015; 6:775-81).
This is not the only study to suggest that probiotics benefit cholesterol. A meta-analysis of 15 controlled studies shows that probiotics significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol (PLoS One 2017 Jun 8;12(6): e0178868). The most recent meta-analysis of 34 studies of probiotics and cardiovascular risk factors shows even wider benefit. Probiotics reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure and improve total, LDL and HDL cholesterol. They also improve long term markers of diabetes control and BMI (Curr Hypertens Rep 2020 Aug 29; 22(9):74).
Probiotics help adults too. This double-blind study looked at 134 people between 18 and 65 who were not overweight. Compared to a placebo group, people taking probiotics for six months lost 4-4.5 percent body fat, or a little over three pounds. Most of the fat loss was abdominal fat loss: an important distinction because losing weight in the abdominal area may be the most important kind of weight loss for living a longer, healthier life (Ann Intern Med 2015; doi:10.7326/M14-2525).
What if you are overweight? Overweight adults who supplemented probiotics significantly reduced their BMI, weight and waist-to-hip ratio (Benef Microbes 2019 Dec 9; 10(8):855-866).
Another controlled study found that supplementing probiotics/prebiotics increases lean body mass and reduces calorie consumption (EBioMedicine 2016 Nov; 13:190-200). And a different kind of study put men on a high fat diet for four weeks and gave them either a placebo or probiotics. The ones who took the probiotics had less gain in body mass and fat mass (Obesity 2015; 23:2364-70).
We promised you a dozen, but here’s a bonus: probiotics may reverse your wrinkles too. Double-blind research shows that when women with dry skin and wrinkles take probiotics for 12 weeks, they have significantly greater skin hydration in the face and hands, and they lose less water through the skin on the face and forearms. And here’s the best part: they also had significant reduction in wrinkle depth, enhanced skin gloss and improved skin elasticity. Skin elasticity improved by a full 21.73 percent (J Microbiol Biotechnol 2015; 25(12):2160-8). VR
Linda Woolven is a master herbalist, acupuncturist and solution-focused counsellor with a virtual practice in Toronto. Woolven and Ted Snider are the authors of several books on natural health. You can see their books at www.thenaturalpathnewsletter.com. They are also the authors of the natural health newsletter The Natural Path. To increase your sales by educating your customers, start giving The Natural Path Newsletter to your customers. Contact Ted Snider at (416) 782-8211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.