Years ago, I read an article in a conventional medical journal about high blood pressure, and I was so thrilled because the article focused on how important diet and lifestyle changes are in the management of high blood pressure. This emphasis on lifestyle almost never happened back then, but this statement by the author said it all: “We can’t out-medicate poor lifestyle.”
That still holds true today. Not only is a healthier dietary and lifestyle choice crucial for prevention and better management of chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, we’ve seen it also has impact on our immune system, including how we respond when faced with serious viral infections.
Today, I’ll explain how one simple lifestyle change – the intake of probiotics – can have a profound impact on our gut and immune health, and much more, including helping to prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Here are some of the ways probiotics can have such wide-reaching effects:
Immune Effects of Beneficial Flora
Probiotics, also known as beneficial flora, reside mostly in the large intestine. Here they play a key role in directing the immune cells that reside in the deeper layers of the intestinal wall. It starts with the production of tight junction proteins, glue-like substances that close the tiny gaps between the cells of the intestine. When present and intact, tight junction proteins create a barrier between the contents of our digested food in the gut, and our immune cells and bloodstream.
Probiotics cause the tight junction proteins to be made. When they sense bad bacteria in the gut, they cause them to rapidly breakdown, so the immune system can pull the bad guys in and present them to the antibodies that attack and break them down.
This system works well when we have enough beneficial flora, but when the probiotics are not present in adequate numbers, the tight junction protein production subsides causing increased gut permeability, and a dysregulated immune system, which starts reacting to substances it shouldn’t, like proteins in foods and environmental allergens like pollens and dust. These allergic reactions go on to become quite a source of inflammation in our system due to the cytokines that the antibodies produce, and cytokines cause a variety of symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes, headaches, joint pain and more. Reducing intake of food allergens while taking probiotics can help the gut tissue to repair and the immune system to re-regulate.
Overactivity of the immune system in the intestines causes another side effect if it’s not kept in check: underactivity of our blood-born immune system. Sometimes referred to as TH1 immunity, this side of our immunity attacks virus-infected cells, other microbes in the blood, cellular debris and cancer cells. One of the first things we’ll see with reduced TH1 activity is that we catch colds and flu more easily.
The Role of Probiotics
Probiotics also contribute to a healthier microbiome by helping to control the growth of several undesirable types of organisms in the gut, including yeast organisms, which when overpopulated can further disrupt healthy and balanced immune responses. Imbalanced gut microbes, called gut dybiosis, can contribute to autoimmune thyroid disease and can even contribute to heart disease through the over-production of something called LPS (lipopolysaccharides). LPS can travel from the gut into the bloodstream where they cause low grade inflammation in our arteries and can contribute to plaque formation.
Another way probiotics help prevent chronic disease is through their role in energy production for intestinal cells. Probiotic bacteria use certain types of fiber, called prebiotics, as food. In the process of eating the fiber, they create byproducts called short chain fatty acids, which our intestinal cells use as fuel. When we have lots of friendly flora creating lots of fuel for intestinal cells, we are supporting better production of several helpful hormones made in the intestinal tract, such as those that help insulin work better and ones that help regulate our hunger.
Studies looking at probiotic supplementation’s effect on allergies and immunity are very promising. In one study where people were given the “Friendly Trio” of probiotic strains, L. gasseri KS-13, B. bifidum G9-1, and B. longum MM-2, found in Kyo-Dophilus Probiotics, during peak allergy season, those taking the probiotics not only had fewer inflammatory cytokines in their blood, they also had markedly reduced allergy symptoms. Other studies have found that taking probiotics improves production of T cells that fight colds and flu, and can significantly reduce the incidence of catching colds.
Next Generation – Synbiotics
As you can see, probiotics are key players in a healthy microbiome, not only helping regulate and balance our immune system, but in preventing inflammation and chronic disease.
When taking probiotic supplements, studies are finding that multi-strain probiotics are much more effective than single strain, as is a new category of probiotic supplement called a synbiotic. This is when a prebiotic substance such as fructo oligosaccharides is added to the probiotic supplement.
Adding a prebiotic substance to the probiotic not only helps the survival of the beneficial bacteria as it passes through the stomach, it leads to even better outcomes from the beneficial bacteria than taking it alone. One example is a prebiotic and probiotic combination supplement made by Kyo-Dophilus called Pro+ Synbiotic that includes several strains of probiotic plus 2 grams of BioEcolians, a proprietary prebiotic designed to support microbiome diversity for improved digestive health and immune response.
When looking for probiotics, be sure to always look for supplements backed by science and made by reputable companies that ensure their probiotics are stable at room temperature. You can learn more about the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics at www.probiotics.com where I serve as a medical advisor and can answer your questions.
Bio: James B. LaValle, R.Ph., CCN, is an internationally recognized clinical pharmacist, author, board certified clinical nutritionist and naturopathic doctorate with more than 35 years of clinical experience. In addition to his LaValle Metabolix Practice he works with players and teams from the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL and is the Clinical Director of the Hall of Fame Health and Performance Program. He is best known for his expertise in metabolic and integrative medicine, with an extensive background in natural products, lifestyle drug/nutrient depletion and uncovering the underlying metabolic issues that keep people from feeling healthy and vital. LaValle is an appointed faculty member and course educator for the Integrative Medicine postgraduate program at George Washington University School of health sciences. He is author of more than 20 books including, “Cracking the Metabolic Code,” and serves as a scientific adviser for Probiotics.com.
Dennis-Wall JC, et al. Probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2) improve rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life in individuals with seasonal allergies: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(3):758-67.
Spaiser SJ, et al. Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2 Ingestion Induces a Less Inflammatory Cytokine Profile and a Potentially Beneficial Shift in Gut Microbiota in Older Adults: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(6):459-69.
Pregliasco F, Anselmi G, Fonte L, et al. A new chance of preventing winter diseases by the administration of synbiotic formulations. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008;42 Suppl 3 Pt 2:S224-33.