Digestion and digestive issues can be solved by healing your gut. Probiotics can play a major role in the healing process. This article looks at problems such as IBS, ulcerative colitis and other IBD’s and how the use of probiotics can help.
Probiotics and their Relation to the Digestive System
Maybe you are reading this because you have digestive problems and you have heard probiotics can help. Now you’re wondering if it’s true.
The good news is, probiotics do have value in this regard. They can naturally improve your gut health and they are linked to many other health benefits as well.
However, that doesn’t mean taking probiotics will be the right answer for you. It depends on the type of issues you are experiencing and, of course, the severity.
Certain people also need to show an extra degree of caution before consuming this type of gut-friendly bacteria.
Probiotics may very well provide the answer you seek. Then again, they may not be the best option for your particular circumstances.
Let’s take a closer look at probiotics. What they are, what they may do, and other important considerations you will need to bear in mind before deciding if taking probiotics is the right option for you.
Probiotics and Digestion: A Quick Introduction
When people talk about probiotics, they are actually referring to several types of bacteria that are naturally present in the intestines.
Although bacteria is generally thought of as being harmful, the probiotic kind is helpful. It supports good intestinal health and good health in general.
Scientists first discovered probiotics around 150 years ago
More importantly, you need to have this type of bacteria. The truth is, you have it whether you want it or not. Scientists first became aware of its presence around 150 years ago.
Sometime after it was discovered, Élie Metchnikoff, an immunology expert of some standing, suggested it may be beneficial to deliberately increase the presence of this “good bacteria” in the intestines.
That was back in 1907. Many decades passed with very little further research into his idea. Then, during the 1990s, researchers began taking a greater interest in probiotics.
The data they collected via clinical trials generated a lot of interest and spawned the emergence of the first commercially-available probiotic products.
As you are probably aware, the probiotic industry continues to flourish to this day.
The Role of Probiotics in the Digestive System
Although study continues and, in many ways is still in its infancy, we are aware probiotic bacteria support good health and deliver many benefits.
These tiny microorganisms support healthy immune function, aid energy metabolism, and may help prevent premature aging. A growing body of research suggests consuming probiotics may also aid weight loss.
The human body relies on many microorganisms to keep things running smoothly and help us retain good health.
When optimum levels are maintained, this good bacteria aids the entire digestive tract. It helps us digest our food efficiently and extract energy and valuable nutrients.
If there is good bacteria, it should come as no surprise that there is bad bacteria present in the intestines as well.
Another thing probiotics do is fight the undesirable types of bacteria and prevent it attaining levels of abundance that could negatively affect the health.
As well as being present in the human gut, probiotics occur naturally in cultured milk and fermented foods of all types.
Let’s move on and take a closer look at the relationship between probiotics and digestion.
Probiotics and the Human Digestive Organs
Research suggests probiotics may help control several digestive issues such as:
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Lactose intolerance
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
We already know a lot about probiotics but we need to know more. Although research shows probiotics can do certain things, in many cases scientists are still struggling to understand how they work.
A lot of the studies were small and fail to cast any light on the way probiotics help with digestion. Nor do they indicate the optimum doses or how to get the best results when administering probiotics supplements.
Research suggests consuming probiotics is safe for most people.
Here’s some of the things we do know about probiotics:
- Probiotics support efficient nutrient absorption.
- Digestive ecosystems can vary from one person to the next.
- The digestive ecosystems of people who suffer from constipation differ wildly from the ones of people who do not have this problem. Unfortunately, science has failed to reveal if the ecosystem causes the constipation or is the result of it.
- Probiotics reduce the pH level within the colon. This may aid bowel movement helping us to squeeze the waste matter through the intestines more quickly.
- They can also be effective for treating antibiotic-related diarrhea. Let’s not forget, antibiotics kill bacteria. In so doing, they can destroy the ecosystem inside the gut. Using probiotic products is a good way to naturally restore the balance and get things back on track.
Science also shows something else very important—different probiotic strains work for us in different ways. However, a lot more research is necessary before we have a sufficient understanding of the various benefits the different strains provide.
Popular Probiotic Strains
Certain probiotic bacteria strains have been researched more than others.
The ones that have caught the researchers’ attention the most come from two families of bacteria— Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Bacteria names are in two parts. The first word you see shows the bacteria family. The second one is the bacteria strain.
When people write about probiotic bacteria they often replace the first name with a single letter—an initial, if you like.
For instance, Lactobacillus acidophilus is often referred to as L. acidophilus. If you look at the details about probiotic supplements or take a look at the back of a tub of probiotic yogurt, this is the format you will usually see.
Here is a list of six probiotic strains that are among the most popular with researchers:
- L. casei
- L. acidophilus
- L. plantarum
- B. longum
- B. lactis
- B. bifidum
What the Research Shows
Let’s take a look at some of the research that concentrates on the way probiotics affect digestive issues.
Researchers at Creighton University in Omaha conducted a systematic review of various studies exploring the value of using Lactobacillus reuteri as a possible treatment for infantile colic.
The researchers concluded supplementation with L. reuteri appears to be a safe and effective way to manage infantile colic in breastfed infants.
However, the review also points out the need for further research into the value of probiotics for formula-fed infants suffering from colic.
The value of probiotics as a treatment for constipation remains somewhat of a grey area.
Some studies suggest probiotic bacteria may be a viable treatment, but many do not.
Researchers in Brazil conducted a systematic review of the data to date. Researchers in the UK did a similar evaluation. In both cases, the review stressed the need for further study.
So, although probiotics remain a possible treatment option for people suffering from constipation, there is insufficient evidence to show they work.
Are probiotics a viable treatment for Crohn’s disease? Again, it all looks very cloudy. Some studies suggest certain strains may help. Other studies do not support the manipulation of gut microbiota in this way.
According to a systematic review by researchers in Italy, there is insufficient proof that probiotics can help people who have the disease.
However, the researchers do not say the approach does not work. They only stress the importance of waiting for the results of future, larger controlled clinical trials.
The researchers also believe probiotic treatments might be beneficial for children who are likely to develop Crohn’s disease because it runs in their family.
When it comes to using probiotics for treating ulcerative colitis, the story is more positive.
Although researchers still say there is a need for further study, they also point out using probiotics to treat colitis has been shown to provide “significant benefits” for the prevention and treatment of mild to moderate cases of ulcerative colitis.
The researchers also say probiotics may become an integral part of tailored ulcerative colitis therapy in the future.
Is consuming probiotics helpful for controlling lactose intolerance? There has been a good deal of research into this and the overall results are extremely promising.
In 2018, researchers at Honolulu’s University of Hawaii conducted a systematic review of the important data and agree there is a growing body of evidence to suggests the probiotic bacteria in fermented and unfermented milk products can be good for alleviating the clinical symptoms of lactose intolerance.
The review evaluates the data from 15 randomized double-blind studies. All the studies concentrated on the 8 strains of probiotic bacteria that have the greatest proven benefits.
Although the researchers point out there is a varying efficiency, they say the overall relationship between probiotics and lactose intolerance is a positive one.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Again, the value of probiotics as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome gets a lot of attention in research establishments. Probiotics show great potential in this area of digestive health.
Let’s take a look at another systematic review the encompasses some of the more notable studies. This one was conducted at Tehran University of Medical Sciences.
The researchers were particularly interested in the way good bacteria improves the main symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Things they looked at included the value of probiotics for relieving bloating, distension, and intestinal gas caused by irritable bowel syndrome. The overall results were very promising.
After evaluating all the studies, as pertaining to their desired criteria, the researchers came to the following conclusion: “Probiotics reduce pain and symptom severity scores. The results demonstrate the beneficial effects of probiotics in IBS patients in comparison with placebo.”
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Probiotics also show promise when it comes to treating the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Inflammatory bowel disease symptoms often include abdominal pain, mucus and/or blood in the stool, diarrhea, tissue damage and/or ulceration of the tissues within the alimentary canal.
Some research shows increasing probiotic bacteria levels may rebalance the gut microbiotia in a positive way.
A review of the research data to date suggests probiotics have potential value but also stresses the need for further study.
As well as evaluating the potential of probiotics as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, the researchers evaluating the data also looked at the safety of doing so.
It was an in-depth evaluation of all the important studies at the time (2015).
The researchers stated the results from probiotic studies involving animals are promising.
They also said the clinical results from human (IBD) patients are encouraging. However, they also said the data is limited, with few of the studies being placebo-controlled.
According to the review, further, stricter studies are necessary before probiotics can be affirmed an effective treatment for irritable bowel disease.
Can Probiotics Help Digestion Summary
Probiotics are integral to the human body. They serve multiple roles and one of the things they do is aid digestion.
Consuming probiotic food or supplements appears to be an effective way to alleviate the symptoms of certain digestive problems, including IBS and ulcerative colitis.
However, the value of probiotics in other areas, such as treating irritable bowel disease, requires further study.
That does not mean probiotics have no value in the disputed areas. It means the researchers require further proof before they can recommend the use of probiotics for certain digestive conditions.
It’s also important to bear in mind probiotics may not be a suitable option for certain individuals.
For instance, people who have HIV or other conditions that impair immune function would do well to avoid this type of product.
If you have any known health issues or have concerns about how suitable probiotic products may be for you, the best thing to do is seek the advice of your doctor.
There is no substitute for professional medical advice especially where probiotics and digestion are concerned.