The Truth about Probiotics
An Introduction to Probiotics
The adult gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is comprised of approximately 6.5m of convoluted tube that is divided into an upper portion, consisting of the oral cavity, esophagus and the stomach and a lower portion, which consists of the small and large intestines. Due to its multiple folds and finger-like projections called microvilli, the surface area of the GUT is approximately 200x that of the skin!
The GIT houses many thousands of diverse and complex microbial species, only a fraction of which have been identified and studied. In fact, the lower portion of the human GIT is a more densely populated ecosystem than the entire planet!
Each microbial organism is classified into different genus, species and strain producing thousands of similar yet separate types performing distinct functions. There are three main types of organisms living in the GIT:
* Commensals which are neither good or bad
* Symbionts which are beneficial to health
* Pathobionts which cause toxicity and disease
In general, the symbionts can be classified into three categories:
* Lactobacillus species
* Bifidobacterium species
* Others which include yeast, E. coli, propinobacterium etc.
The term probiotics was first used in 1953 to indicate the health providing benefits of these organisms, in contrast to the harmful antibiotics which kill organisms. The WHO definition of a probiotic is "live organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer health benefits to the host".
Some of the many potential health benefits of probiotics include:
* Acting as a barrier against harmful bacteria, like those that cause diarrhea
* Generating various nutrients like vitamins B2, B12, K and others
* Helping absorption of important minerals like calcium
* Assisting the production of important digestive enzymes
* Cholesterol reducing effects
* Stimulating the immune system
* Enhancing bowel motility and relieving constipation
* Maintaining mucosal integrity
* Reducing inflammation and allergic reactions
* Assisting detoxification
* Preventing colonization of pathogenic bacteria by competing for space
* Anti-carcinogenic actions
Probiotics have been used for centuries; however, researches have only started to study them in-depth over the past 100 years or so. Japan is the world leader in the use of probiotics in various types of foods like yogurt, candy, milk, desserts, etc.
A safe and effective probiotic supplement must meet following requirements:
* Clinically studied. The more studies the better, as there is a strong placebo effect to contend with. Products that have not been tested in a clinical study should be viewed with caution. Do not take word of any manufacturer! Ask for proof.
* Contain the correct species that are human strains
* Resistant to mutation. This means that the bacterial strains are not subject to genetic change. This is essential to ensure that these beneficial organisms do not become toxic or help to spread antibiotic resistance, which is a very real concern!
* Must be stable and resistant to stomach acid, bile salts and digestive enzymes. It also helps if the organisms are room temperature stable for convenience!
* Ability to adhere to the intestines and colonize. If the organisms cannot set up house in the crowded GIT then they are pretty much useless and will pass through with no benefit. One exception to this are probiotic yeast strains.
* Documented ability to deliver health benefits e.g. stimulate the immune system, have an anti-allergy effect, detoxification and others.
The strains included must be compatible with each other and also synergistic. Most probiotic products contain a hodge-podge of strains thrown together with no knowledge of whether they are compatible or whether they will just kill each other, canceling out any benefit.
Probiotic products on the market: The Facts!
All probiotic products are NOT created equal and many do not offer the stated health benefits. Over 99% of the products on the market have never been clinically studied and make unproven claims! Most formulas are based on guess work, and designed simply provide the greatest number of different strains in the highest number per capsule in an attempt to impress the consumer. Do not be fooled by the concept that more is better. The reason that most companies put in such large colony numbers is because they have no clinical data showing that the strains are compatible, will survive or will produce any effect. In essence they are hoping that by incorporating such high amounts at least some will end up surviving. Do not be fooled!
Some combinations have no history of use and may be antagonistic to each other and may even alter the gut flora in an undesirable way.
Probiotic-3: A Clinically Proven Probiotic Combination
The 1 × 1014 microbes present in the human gut are vitally important to normal health. About 1,000 species of bacteria from four taxonomic groups comprise the majority of these microbes. Although the population is highly dynamic, it is critical in developing and shaping the gut immune system; consequently, disruption of the microbiota, a condition known as dysbiosis, is associated with both acute and chronic disorders of the gut. These include inflammatory disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as infections by Clostridium difficile, Helicobacter pylori, and various other enteropathogenic bacteria. The local and global burdens of these conditions is considerable. Increasing evidence suggests that it is possible to alleviate these disorders by resolving the dysbiosis. However, since conventional treatments for these disorders actually cause or aggravate dysbiosis, there is a need for approaches to support gut health by restoring microbial homeostasis.
Probiotics, as defined by the World Health Organization, are "live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host". The most common commercial probiotics are lactic acid bacteria – Lactobacilli – found in beverages, yoghurts and similar “functional foods”. Some probiotic bacteria, such as Clostridium butyricum, merit attention for their specific uses in reducing disease incidence or risk of recurrence.
This non-pathogenic species of Clostridium reduces inflammation and infections in the colon through several approaches.
First, it is a robust producer of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including butyrate for which it is named. These small hormone-like molecules exert specific protective effects on immune cells within the colonic epithelium, increasing immune tolerance to commensal bacteria and reducing inflammation. Second, SCFA production by C. butyricum lowers the pH of the intestinal environment, and thus has a bacteriocidal effect against pathogenic species that are acid-intolerant. Third, it directly kills pathogenic bacteria that colonize the intestinal mucosa, by both competing with these species for resources and by production of an assortment of anti-bacterial peptides. Experimental studies to determine which bacteria promote intestinal homeostasis identified several bacterial strains, all of which were Clostridia, and which included C. butyricum.
These strains were markedly deficient in the colons of individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. These findings support a strong role for C. butyricum in regulation of intestinal health. Probiotic-3 is a probiotic supplement containing three bacterial strains. The first, C. butyricum, delivers the protective effects outlined above. The second, Enterococcus faecium, works in synergy with C. butyricum to eliminate enteropathogenic bacteria.Finally, Bacillus subtilis acts as a probiotic by supporting the proliferation of the other two strains, as well as of beneficial commensals of the Bifidobacteria species. The synergistic actions of the constituent strains make Probiotic-3 a synbiotic agent, a characteristic that distinguishes it from most probiotics similarly available as supplements.
C. butyricum is an anaerobic bacterium, and preferentially colonizes the distal colon. There are several mechanisms by which it protects the mucosal layer from damage. Firstly, the production of large quantities of SCFAs by C. butyricum lowers the pH in the intestine enough to render the environment inhospitable to many pathogenic bacteria.13 SCFAs also stimulate the proliferation of intestinal epithelial cells, which promotes wound healing and maintains the physical barrier against pathogenic microbes. As there is a large population of commensal microbes in the intestine, a healthy gut immune system must be broadly tolerant to diverse antigens presented by such non-pathogenic entities. C. butyricum directs such tolerance by instructing immune cells to produce IL-10 and TGFβ; these cytokines consequently suppress the chronic inflammation associated with disorders such as ulcerative colitis. Notably, early-onset colitis is associated with deficiencies in IL-10 signaling. Through the same mechanism, C. butyricum supplementation reduces the development of allergies in animals and humans.16-18 In sum, the effects of C. butyricum colonization of the intestinal surface are to improve physical integrity, to reduce colonization by pathogenic bacteria, to increase immune tolerance, and to reduce inflammatory responses.
E. faecium is a lactic acid bacterium, similar to Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. It is particularly effective at killing pathogenic bacteria, both on the mucosal surface and in suspension. E. faecium produces three antimicrobial peptides – known as bacteriocins – which are effective against multiple bacterial species.19 E. faecium and C. butyricum in synergy are several orders of magnitude more effective in controlling pathogenic bacteria than either strain alone.
B. subtilis plays multiple distinct roles in regulation of intestinal homeostasis. It produces a signaling molecule, known as the competence- and sporulation-stimulating factor (CSF), which activates pro-survival pathways in enterocytes. This protects the cells from oxidative damage and maintains the integrity of the intestinal barrier.21 Remarkably, secretion of CSF and nitric oxide into the gut by B. subtilis is associated with longevity in animal models. B. subtilis is also effective in controlling pathogenic bacteria, both alone and in combination with E. faecium.
Finally, B. subtilis acts as a prebiotic by increasing the proliferation of Bifidobacteria and E. faecium. The mechanism involves production and secretion of 3,3-dihydroxyazetidine by B. subtilis, which acts as a growth factor for itself and other bacterial strains.
Probiotic-3 is a safe and effective supplement for use in support of gastrointestinal health, and to help relieve symptoms associated with gastrointestinal inflammation or acute gastrointestinal infections.