Benefits of Probiotics
Sunday, August 1, 2010
LifeTime WeightLoss in Metabolism, Tom Nikkola, immune support, probiotics, undefined

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

When you think about bacteria, what comes to mind? Germs? Illness? Health? Do you know health, fitness and weight management depend on the millions of bacteria in your digestive system? We tend to have the perspective that bacteria are bad, but in truth, there are many bacteria we rely on. Without them, a variety of health complications may occur. If your healthy bacteria levels are low, probiotics may be just what you need.

What are probiotics?

The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live organisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” The most common probiotics are bacteria, but they can also be yeast and viruses.(1) Probiotics are naturally-occurring in some foods such as yogurt, fermented milk, miso and tempeh. The probiotics found in these foods may be different strains than those naturally living in the human digestive tract. There is still debate as to whether the food-based probiotics provide the same kind of health benefits, but recent evidence suggests they do at least provide some benefit. Aside from fermented foods, probiotics can also be found in supplemental form. Because probiotics are live organisms, they should avoid exposure to excessive heat. The usual daily dosage can be anywhere from 2-5 BILLION bacteria.

What are the benefits?

The majority of people in industrialized societies have been exposed to antibiotics for the purpose of getting rid of diseases we’re faced with. Unfortunately, antibiotics tend to wipe out most of the bacteria in our system, both good and bad. In addition to wiping out the bacteria in our bodies with antibiotics, the type of foods we eat can impact the health and growth of good and bad bacteria in our system. Though some foods, such as yogurt, contain probiotics, they often do not contain all of the good bacteria found in the human digestive tract. High-quality probiotics do provide a variety of different strains of good bacteria.

So what are some of the benefits that have been linked to the use of probiotics? One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that supplementation with Lactobacillus acidophilus decreased cholesterol absorption in those with high cholesterol, or hypercholesterolaemia.(2) This is promising, as using probiotics and other natural supplements to support healthy cholesterol levels could come without some of the side-effects of statins. More research is necessary, though.

Like many other health complications we face, rates of allergies continue to increase. According to Dr. Guy Delespesse of the University of Montreal and director of the Laboratory for Allergy Research, “There is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases. The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk he or she will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime.”(3) There is growing evidence to suggest a lack of good bacteria in our digestive systems can lead to allergies and other autoimmune issues. Because babies who were bottle-fed were not exposed to the healthy bacteria found in mother’s milk, probiotics may play an important role later in life.

Research in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology shows that probiotics may provide benefit to those who have celiac disease, a food allergy that keeps people from eating foods with the protein gluten in them.(4) Those who have celiac disease can have inflamed digestive systems and reduced levels of good bacteria. The addition or more good bacteria can be one step toward a healthier, more functional digestive system.

Certain healthy bacteria have shown promise for improving brain function. Although this is far from conclusive, Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria found in soil fed to mice showed signs of significantly increased brain function. These bacteria would be ingested through outdoor activity, especially in more natural settings. Although there is much research to be done, it would be great if kids were allowed to jump in the mud to increase their intelligence!(5)

In 2006, the journal Nature published two papers showing how obese and normal-weight individuals had different levels of two different types of bacteria. The ratio was shown to be altered in those who were obese.(6) The research showed that the obese group’s gut bacteria were actually better at pulling energy out of the food to provide to the body. The excess energy was shown to be a factor in the obese individual’s positive energy balance leading to weight gain!(7) A more recent study showed another strain of bacteria in fermented milk supported weight loss.(8) There has been increasing promotion of probiotics in milk products like yogurt, but it’s important to consider the sugar amounts in these foods, as well as beware of the potential issues with dairy digestion before relying on milk products for probiotics.

What should I look for?

The various strains of probiotics bacteria each provide different benefits in our bodies. Based on their many benefits, it’s wise to look for products that provide a variety of strains in them. Many food-based products have only one or two strains of probiotics, where as supplemental probiotics provide a wide variety of strains, and usually in much greater numbers. Daily doses can range from two billion to fifteen million, or more, total organisms. To help create a change in the gut flora, initial dosages may be at the higher end of the range, with maintenance dosages closer to the 2-5 billion level. Probiotics are taken in such high doses because many of them are killed en route to the small intestine, which is where they provide their benefits. Not all products need to be refrigerated, but they should be kept out of high levels of heat, as the heat can also kill many of the bacteria.


We often look at the high rates of disease and illness and lose site of the fact that many of these issues can start in the gut, where 70% of our immune system is found. A healthy digestive system does more than break down our foods and help us absorb nutrients. It keeps bad bacteria from getting into the rest of our body. When it is healthy, it even keeps food particles that may be too large from entering our blood stream, where they can cause autoimmune diseases and food allergies. Many Nutrition Professionals see the use of probiotics as essential as multivitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Since probiotics are not found in most foods, supplementation is one of the easiest ways to help ensure your digestive system gets what it needs.

Written by: Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management


  1. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. An Introduction to Probiotics. National Institutes of Health August, 2008
  2. Huang Y, Zheng Y. The probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus reduces cholesterol absorption through the down-regulation of Niemann-Pick C1-like 1 in Caco-2 cells. Brit J Nut. 2010;103:473-478
  3. Ude MNouvelles. Why are allergies increasing? University of Montreal. April 13, 2010
  4. G. De Palma, J. Cinova, R. Stepankova, L. Tuckova, and Y. Sanz. Bifidobacteria and Gram-negative bacteria differentially influence immune responses in the proinflammatory milieu of celiac disease. J Leuk Biol. 2010 87: 765
  5. American Society for Microbiology. Can Bacteria Make You Smarter? ScienceDaily. 25 May 2010.
  6. Ley R, Turnbaugh P, Klein S, Gordon J. Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature. 2006;444:1022-1023
  7. Turnbaugh Tp, Ley R, Mahowald M, Magrini V, Mardis E, Gordon J. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature. 2006;444:1027-1031
  8. Kadooka Y, Sato M, Imaizumi K, Ogawa A, Ikuyama K, Akai Y, M. Okano, Kagoshima M, Tsuchida T. Regulation of abdominal adiposity by probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055) in adults with obese tendencies in a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nut. June 2010, Volume 64, Number 6, Pages 636-643

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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