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Infographic for Advanced Daily Probiotic highlighting probiotic benefits beyond gut health

Approximately four million U.S. adults take probiotics. Among adults, probiotics or prebiotics are the third most commonly used dietary supplement, besides vitamins and minerals. Prebiotics, found in fiber, provide fuel for the probiotics to support the gut and aid in digestion. In fact, most people choose prebiotics and probiotics to aid in digestive health and/or immune health. You may be wondering what are the health benefits of probiotics and whether you should take one.

Probiotics are live microorganisms. Although we often think of “bacteria” as harmful, many microorganisms are helpful. Some of these bacteria help digest food and destroy disease-causing cells. You already have some in your body and can find them in yogurt, kefir and other fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha tea, and dietary supplements.

Past research has looked at probiotics’ role in gut health. Now researchers are looking at the benefits of probiotics on other health conditions.

Benefits of Probiotics Beyond Gut Health

Immune Health

There are many things we do daily that impact our immune system. Washing our hands frequently, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and getting adequate sleep are just a few. But is there a way to improve our immunity beyond our lifestyle choices? It appears probiotics may be a good choice. A meta-analysis of 18 randomized clinical trials on Lactobacillus plantarum and immune health suggests L. plantarum enhances immune response by modulating pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are small proteins released by the cells that are critical in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH shares other ways to boost immune health here.

Blood Pressure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 47% of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, with only 24% having their hypertension under control. High blood pressure is defined as blood pressure at or above 130/80 mm/Hg. High blood pressure is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, stroke, or heart attack.

There is promising research showing probiotics may help lower blood pressure. As reported in the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Journal, nine clinical trials found a significant reduction in systolic (3.56 mm Hg) and diastolic (2.38 mm Hg) blood pressure compared to placebo. Read about more ways to control high blood pressure here.

Allergic Rhinitis

Often referred to as hay fever, an increasing percentage of us now experience allergic rhinitis. The all-to-familiar symptoms of sneezing, congestion, itchy nose and sore throat occur when we breathe in something we are allergic to, such as dust or pollen.  A review of 23 studies indicates that probiotics may help improve the symptoms and quality of life.

Migraines

If you are one of the 13% of Americans that suffer from migraines, you have likely heard of the gut-brain axis. The term refers to the bidirectional relationship between the GI and central nervous systems. There is a higher incidence of headaches in patients with gastrointestinal disorders, suggesting a link between gut microbiota and brain function. By altering the types of bacteria in your gut, it may be possible to improve your brain health. A 2019 study found evidence that the benefits of probiotics include reducing the frequency, severity, and duration of migraine attacks.

Hypercholesterolemia

High cholesterol is another condition that puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Approximately 93 million American adults have high cholesterol (total blood cholesterol ≥ 200 mg/dL). You can reduce your cholesterol level through lifestyle changes, such as eating a heart-healthy diet and increasing physical activity. There is evidence that certain probiotics, particularly Lactobacilli, can prevent cholesterol from being made and absorbed, as well as help break it down. A meta-analysis showed lactobacillus probiotics can reduce total cholesterol by about 10 mg/dL and LDL by about 9 mg/dL in patients with or without hypercholesterolemia. Read about more natural ways to lower your LDL (Bad) cholesterol from Cooper Clinic Cardiologist Nina Radford, MD.

Respiratory Tract Infections

Viral respiratory tract infection is a frequent cause of infectious illnesses such as the common cold. A review published in 2020 in the journal Nutrients looked at research on probiotics concerning respiratory illness. The conclusion was that probiotic use is associated with fewer and shorter duration of mild respiratory tract infections.

Periodontal Disease

The gut is not the only place bacteria live. More than 700 species of microbes live in our mouths, including bacteria. Just like the gut, it is important to maintain the right balance for good dental health. If it gets out of balance, the harmful bacteria can lead to gum disease. Scientists are finding that probiotics can help with this imbalance and may help fight gum disease. A 2016 review of 12 randomized clinical trials (RCTs) showed that in general, taking probiotics improved the clinical signs of periodontitis. Of course, maintaining good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing is key to optimal oral health.

As you can see, the microbiome and probiotic use are one of the most exciting and potentially impactful areas of 21st-century medicine. We are just beginning to understand the benefits of probiotics. The emerging science could have a tremendous impact on health – both from a therapeutic standpoint as well as preventive.  It is always important to consult your physician before adding a supplement to your regimen. Your physician understands your health profile best, so it’s important to talk to them about which supplements are best for you.

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