For years, probiotics were associated with one thing: the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and digestive health. However, various clinical trials have found that the probiotic benefit extends beyond gut health. Research indicates that in addition to a healthy gut, probiotics can benefit immune system modulation, inflammation, metabolic and cardiovascular health, and be beneficial in preventing infection.
Much of the most recent basic and clinical research has shown that probiotics benefit the gut directly through their presence and through their metabolic byproducts. However, the same research has also shown that their ability to improve gut health has a cascade effect in improving the health of more distant organs, tissues, and systems.
The GI tract plays a central role in the immune system. It is the main route of contact with the external environment and is overloaded every day with external stimuli, such as bacteria (“good” and “bad”), protozoa, fungi, viruses, or toxic substances. The critical role of the GI is testified by the huge amount of immune cells that reside within it, where 70% of the immune system regularly circulates through the GI system, interacting with things that we ingest and also the microbiata that reside in our gut.
Probiotics play a direct role in gut health by improving the gut wall lining, competitive exclusion of pathogenic bacteria, interacting with the immune system by modulating the action of immune cells and pro-inflammatory proteins, and finally by sequestering potentially toxic bacterial byproducts such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS).
By improving the overall health of the gut and functionality of the immune system, probiotics seek out and destroy infecting organisms that could otherwise contribute to infections, cell and tissue damage, and inflammation.
By modulating and controlling inflammation, research has also shown that probiotic use can also positively impact conditions such as dermatitis, which is often linked to a strong inflammatory function.
The effect of probiotics on nutrient absorption has also been found to impact metabolic and cardiovascular health. Research has shown that probiotic byproducts, such as short chain fatty acids, are able to exert an effect on the absorption of sugars, fats, and cholesterol, which directly impact fat deposition and liver function.
Many studies have also shown that probiotics produce bioactive peptides that can inhibit enzymes associated with controlling blood pressure, like Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE). This is particularly significant as many pharmaceutical drugs for blood pressure control target ACE as part of their mode of action.
Therefore, because of the central role of the gut, by improving gut health through probiotics, one can initiate a cascade of benefits that results in whole body health.