Probiotics are living microorganisms that nourish the gut microbiome and provide whole-body health benefits. Our gut microbiome is the totality of all the living organisms within your gut with over 100 trillion microorganisms representing more than 500 different species. The microbiome is made up of bacteria, viruses, and fungi and it plays an essential role in our health. Of the microbiome, bacteria are the most studied and for good reason, there is so much to learn!
There are both good and bad strains of bacteria. The “good” bacteria in our gut assist in the breakdown and digestion of food, the performance of the immune system, and moderate inflammation (1). Oftentimes, our body doesn’t produce enough beneficial bacteria, and there becomes an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria (also known as gut dysbiosis). Probiotic foods or a probiotic supplement can help restore gut microbiome balance and help our body function optimally so we can be the healthiest (and happiest) we can be!
What are the Health Benefits of Probiotics:
There is a kaleidoscopic array of health benefits thanks to the diversity in probiotic strains. Each probiotic strain has its own set of health benefits. In other words, there are different types of probiotics, and those different types of probiotics provide different health benefits for our bodies (2). Each strain includes the genus, the species, the subspecies, and an alphanumeric strain designation. To gain a better and broader understanding of the health benefits of probiotics, we will highlight the most common groups of probiotics and the individual benefits that these different types of probiotics have to offer.
There are many different types of probiotics, but some of the most common groups of probiotics include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Enterococcus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus, Leuconostoc, Bacillus, and Escherichia coli (3). We will break down these 9 different groups to give you a holistic idea of the health benefits of probiotics.
This is one of the largest and most commonly used genera of probiotics with many different species (12). Aside from being found in our digestive system, Lactobacillus is found in various fermented foods like yogurt, cheese, and sourdough. Some of the most common health benefits of Lactobacillus include diarrhea treatment and prevention. Specifically, Lactobacillus has proven effective in treating and preventing both infectious and antibacterial diarrhea. Lactobacillus can be used to treat other general digestion problems, improve general gut health, and has proven to be effective in alleviating unwanted symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, Lactobacillus is commonly used to treat constipation, colic in babies, stomach pain, and inflammation of the colon.
Bifidobacterium is among the first microbes to colonize the human gastrointestinal tract (4). Studies point to Bifidobacterium preventing and treating colorectal cancer. For example, results from one specific study suggest that a combination of prebiotics and Bifidobacterium may reduce the occurrence of carcinogen-induced cancerous cells in mice. The use of Bifidobacterium has also been proven to treat various gastrointestinal disorders including diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon irregularity.
Saccharomyces is actually a genus of fungi that includes different strains of yeast. Saccharomyces is most commonly used for preventing and treating gastrointestinal disorders like infectious diarrhea including rotaviral diarrhea in children. This nonpathogenic yeast has been prescribed for the past 30 years for prophylaxis and treatment of diarrheal diseases caused by gut bacteria (5). On top of this, there is some evidence that Saccharomyces can be used to treat acne and a digestive tract infection that can lead to ulcers.
One special quality about Enterococcus is that this probiotic microorganism is resistant to a wide range of pH levels and temperatures (6)! Enterococcal bacteriocins have attracted great research interest as natural antimicrobial agents in the food industry, as well as a potential drug candidate for replacing antibiotics in order to treat multiple drug-resistant pathogens. There have been multiple studies investigating the use of Enterococcus for the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases, acne, and other skin bacterial infections. On top of this, Enterococcus has been extensively studied for the use in the treatment of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). Lastly, Enterococcus has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory.
One of the most powerful strains of probiotics is undoubtedly Streptococcus. Streptococcus Thermophilus is used for culturing cheese and yogurt but it doesn’t stop there. Streptococcus is also known to produce lactase which assists in the efficiency of milk digestion. On top of this, Streptococcus is claimed to produce antibiotic chemicals to prevent infection like pneumonia and C. difficile (7). Additional research benefits of Streptococcus are improved digestion, including improved lactose digestions, decreased leaky gut symptoms, and ulcerative colitis symptoms. Streptococcus Thermophilus is also shown to enhance immunity, including the prevention of upper respiratory infections.
Pediococcus are lactic acid bacteria (8). Although human trials are limited, there have been many studies on Pediococcus among birds and small animals. The results of various studies revealed potential benefits of Pediococcus as treating constipation, diarrhea, relieving stress, and enhancing immune response.
Leuconostoc mesenteroides are found in many types of fresh produce (9). L. mesenteroides are especially unique because they produce special antibacterial chemicals that reduce or eliminate pathogens in your body. Results from various studies have revealed that despite rather narrow ranges of protective efficacy, Leuconostoc probiotics may promote health benefits against influenza.
What makes Bacillus probiotics so special is that they are spore-forming, soil-based probiotics (10). While Bacillus strains have been used in probiotic formulations in Europe for at least 50 years, they have only become popular in the United States in the last 10 years. Because of the unique properties of Bacillus, Bacillus probiotics make it through stomach acid and ultimately the spores are passed through the gastrointestinal tract. Bacillus spores have been scientifically proven to improve immune and gut health as well as support anti-aging and heart health.
Also known as E. Coli, Escherichia Coli is one of the best understood and most studied organisms on the planet (11). Although E. Coli is often associated with pathogenic, illness-causing strains, this bacteria is often beneficial, if not essential, to the proper functioning of the human body. Most E. coli strains are harmless and are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. Escherichia coli prevents the uncontrolled growth of harmful bacteria in our bodies. In addition, the E. Coli in our intestines works hard to keep us healthy by breaking down food.
As you can see, there are so many options when it comes to what probiotics to take. Each specific strain has its own unique health benefits and functions, so be sure to look for a probiotic blend that targets your specific needs.