Probiotics: The New Therapeutic Frontier

petri dish

There is an exciting new frontier of research being conducted involving intestinal bacteria. Finally the scientific community has accepted what nutritionists have been saying for years… that the microflora in the gut is critical to good health.

We host about 400 -500 species of microorganisms in the gut of which only 80 species have been identified. There is so much to investigate: the different strains and their appearance, structure, function and behavior.

With new emerging technologies such as Multilocus Sequence Analysis, DNA Typing using PCR, Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis, and others with even more complicated names, researchers can actually identify the different strains, tag them, study what they do, what chemicals they secrete and how they affect the microbiome and ultimately how they affect human health.

Furthermore, once they are identified and their behavior is studied they may be used as therapeutic interventions which are targeted to very specific conditions. This is HUGE!

For example, there is currently a probiotic product which started out as an over the counter probiotic supplement. The manufacturers have supplied it to researchers and now it is available as a prescription at double the strength. By prescription it is used for the specific conditions of ulcerative colitis, and those with an ileal pouch. This product is an extremely high dose of 8 strains of bacteria which have been studied for these specific conditions and found to be ameliorative. This combination of friendly bacteria show a great deal of promise for use in the above two conditions.

There is also research associating specific gut bacteria with obesity and diet. There is so much to study when it comes to gut bacteria!

Many of the microbiota are friendly and these make lactic acid. The same lactic acid that we get when we ferment foods. Yogurt and kefir are good examples of the end product of lactic acid fermentation. Traditionally made sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables also provide plenty of friendly lactic acid bacteria. There are many foods that lend themselves to fermentation, and are part of the traditional, real food movement. Eating probiotic rich foods is an excellent way to nurture the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Before refrigeration was invented fermentation was the method used to preserve food. Humans reaped the benefits of this method by eating these foods and hosting the good bacteria. What do these beneficial bacteria do for us?

Gut bacteria have a big job:

1- Beneficial bacteria provide enzymes which aid in digestion.

2- Beneficial bacteria provide a protective barrier along the entire length of the digestive tract much like a thick layer of turf protecting top soil.

3- Beneficial bacteria provide antibiotic and antiviral substances for protection. Lactic acid bacteria enhance GI and systemic immunity in humans by:

  • Increasing B cells which recognize foreign substance.
  • Increasing phagocytic activity which works to destroy foreign matter.
  • Increasing IgA, IgG, IgM and Secretory IgA which boast antibody activity.
  • Increasing gamma interferon which enhances WBC ability to fight infections and disease.

4- Lactic acid bacteria produce SCFA (short chain fatty acids) such as butyric acid and proprionic acid. Importantly, these organic acids lower the ph in the GI tract, making it more acidic which reduces the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

5- Beneficial bacteria nourish the enterocytes (cells of the lining the digestive tract) and are the primary source of energy for these cells. It is estimated that the gut cells receive 60-70% of their energy from bacterial activity.

In our modern times we live in a sterile environment with greatly reduced exposures to microorganisms. We have become deficient in these friendly microbes. This creates an imbalance in the microbiome between the friendly and the pathogenic flora. We also engage in many activities that reduce the numbers of gut flora. That is a huge topic and will be another post.

The very first bacterial exposure comes during birth. The infant picks up the microbiota of the mother during it’s journey through the birth canal. Breast fed babies also get the mothers microbiota. Babies born through C-section and babies fed formula pick up the bacteria of their primary care giver.

There is plenty of research indicating that infants who are breast fed, thus hosting more beneficial bacteria than non breast fed babies, have fewer infections of incidences of ear infections and respiratory infections. Studies show that infants prone to respiratory infections also fare much better when fed a fermented formula (one that has naturally occurring beneficial bacteria).

Specific strains of bacteria have been found to help prevent nosocomial gastrointestinal and respiratory infections in pediatric wards. Specific strains of bacteria were found to significantly improve asthma and allergic rhinitis in school children.

The gut bacteria also affect brain chemistry and mood. Altered gut bacteria are present in children with autism and present in conditions of depression and anxiety. That is another huge topic and will be a separate article.

Clearly, it is very important to nurture and protect the gut bacteria. They are our friends! What are you doing to enhance your beneficial gut bacteria? Please leave a comment and let me know!


Where to purchase cultures for home fermentation.

Where to purchase fermented foods.

Photo Credit

This post is linked to : Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, Friday Food, Friday Favorites, Whole Health Weekend, Sugar-Free Sunday, Savory Sunday, Melt in Mouth Monday, Mangia Monday, Meatless Monday. Monday Mania. Weekend Carnival, Tuesday Night Supper Club, Tuesday at the Table, Tasty Tuesday Tidbits, Traditional Tuesday, Tasty Tuesday. Tasty Tuesday, What’s Cooking Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Whats on the Menu Wednesday, Whats Cooking Wednesday, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesdsay, Creative Juice Thursday, Full Plate Thursday, Turning the Table Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter


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  • Jacqueline September 8, 2011, 9:47 pm

    Probiotics can even help with menopause! From this article:

    Beneficial microbes metabolize and recycle hormones, too, including estrogen, thyroid hormones, and phytoestrogens. This facilitates proper hormonal balance, which can help offset symptoms of menopause and perimenopause.

    I <3 Bugs!

  • Alicia@ eco friendly homemaking September 8, 2011, 11:07 pm

    Oh this is such a great post!! I have been researching this very topic. Thanks for all of this great information!!

  • Tara September 8, 2011, 11:14 pm

    We drink milk and water kefir daily, as well as take Fermented Cod Liver Oil. I’ve noticed a big improvement in our health since starting these.

  • Emily September 9, 2011, 10:40 am

    We drink raw milk kefir/yogurt smoothies every morning, plus the multi we started taking also has probiotics.

  • Susan September 9, 2011, 4:47 pm

    I’ve been making yogurt and making Indian “lassi” drinks from it: Yogurt blended in the blender with fruit, a few ice cubes, with a touch of cardamom (for when I make it with peaches or mangoes.)

  • Nicole Feliciano September 9, 2011, 8:09 pm

    Yogurt, yogurt and more yogurt. I eat it every day in part because of all the research. Thanks so much for this post–reinforces a healthy habit. Thanks so much for sharing this tasty recipe on Momtrends’ Friday Food. Have a great weekend!

  • Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures September 12, 2011, 3:06 am

    This is so true! Probiotics should be given directly following antibiotics.

    Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasure’s Whole Health Weekend Link-Up.

    Check back on Friday when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! 🙂

  • Michelle @ September 12, 2011, 2:11 pm

    This is huge!  There is also some promise that probiotics may (emphasize may) be beneficial in curbing the onset of food allergies in children.  My son has severe food allergies and I recently started him on a probiotic supplement.  It may not work for him, but it certainly  won’t hurt.  I am willing to try it if it helps lessen the severity of his allergies.

    I have discussed the benefits of probiotics on my food allergy blog before.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to share your post with my readers as well.  I am very encouraged.  Thank you!

    • Jill September 12, 2011, 5:00 pm

      Hi Michelle,
      Yes, I have also read about probiotics for food allergies and have used them in my practice. It does help, especially if the food allergies are not the immediate IgE, but the delayed hypersensitivites related to IgG allergies. It makes sense because probiotics will help the gut lining heal and seal. Allergies come from what we call a “leaky gut” because the cells of the lining are not protected by bacteria and they become spread apart. This allows large undigested food particles to enter the blood stream where they can initiate an immune reaction as they are seen as foreign particles by the immune system. It is more complex than this and a good topic for another post! But I think a good strong probiotic will help.

      Thanks for sharing my post!

    • lucinda hustin January 13, 2012, 9:12 pm

      you should check out Dr. natasha campbell mc bride, GAPS diet. Sally Fallon writer of the nurishing traditions cookbook full of recipes for fermaeted foods and beverages. pages and pages of information, the best you will ever read.

    • Kristy Kelley November 14, 2012, 1:42 pm

      Hi Michelle – I’m curious to hear more about your son and how the probiotics are going. Both my children have severe nut and egg allergy and one of them have sensitivities to wheat and dairy. What brand of probiotics are you doing with them? I’m considereing RAW Garden of Life Children’s Probiotics. Also, I’ve been thinking about doing the GAPS diet but just not sure if it’s possible when we can’t do eggs or nuts. It seems to narrow the food options so much.

  • Michael Anne Fryer September 12, 2011, 3:32 pm

    I have been hospitalized recently and 2 years ago for a colon abscess associated with luelositic colitis (an auto immune disease). Surgery to repair a fistula and my colon has been postponed because I contracted C.difficle toxinagen “A” while in the hospital 3 weeks ago—on massive antibiotics. I am on a monster antibiotic for a second round (the first did not get the C. diff.) My daughter put me on the GAPS diet and it has been awesome at reducing my symptoms. Question: Is there one probiotic supplement you recommend, or do you advise supplement and diet as the defense against the “bad” bacteria having its way with me again?

    • Jill September 12, 2011, 5:15 pm

      Hi Michael Ann,
      So sorry to hear about your troubles. The GAPS diet is a great place to start for any type of colitis or any intestinal inflammation. There are a lot of recipes right here on this blog. While I could not give you specific medical advise (see my disclaimer) — please see your medical doctor for that — studies show excellent results for C. Diff using the friendly yeast called Sacchromycces boulardi or s. boulardi This is sold over the counter from many manufacturers. The original was Florastore. In some cases it worked better than antibiotics which usually take many rounds to work. Good luck and please let me know how it goes!

  • Linda September 15, 2011, 6:06 pm

    Very informative.  I like to get my probiotics from fermented vegetables.  Thank-you!

  • Anonymous September 18, 2011, 2:38 am

    Each week, it normally takes me several days to get around to reading the entries to my blog party.  The first thing I do is search for yours.  I am an obese woman and a cook.  I cook for people as my ministry and it is a hobby.  I am trying to change my life style (though not too drastically at first).  It is a hard feat because I have cooked all my life to include lots of pasta….carbs etc.  We eat lots of good veggies and lean meat but when I am tired or ill prepared….I turn to the old comfort food.  Anyway, I get so much good info from you and I just wanted to tell that I appreciate that you keep coming back.

    • Jill September 18, 2011, 7:52 pm

      Hi Susan,
      Thanks for your kind words. I always hope to help people change and improve their health. Keep reading my blog, I add new information each week!

    • lucinda hustin January 13, 2012, 9:22 pm

      google “weston a price” listen to Sally Fallon on youtube also natasia campbell. you will learn that meat fat is good for you. eat it. However vedgetable oils and and all grains are very bad for you. grains are only good if they are first sprouted or fermented before eating. Eat sour dough bread. It is fermented.

      • Odile October 19, 2012, 4:13 pm

        For those with impaired digestion (and unfortunately, that means MOST OF US), even fermented/sprouted grains are no good. Follow the GAPS diet, grain-free and starch-free (and sugar-free natch). When you have attained your perfect weight and have perfect poops (sorry) you may then venture into the grain cuisine. But you won’t want to anymore. Starches and sugars feed Candida, the cause of so many ills including cancer, and Candida makes you crave sugars and starches. That’s its selfish gene’s way of ensuring survival of the Candida species. Resist Candida! Eat veggies (non-starchy), fats (the good ones including animal fats), meats and fruit. Good news: whipping cream is good for you! Just don’t add sugar to it. Mix it into pureed strawberries…

  • Reid Kimball September 19, 2011, 4:46 am

    What stinks though is that the FDA is taking probiotics off the US market. I talked with a rep from Mutaflor about this. The FDA wants probiotic supplements to undergo the same testing for pharmaceutical drugs. No way probiotic makers are going to be able to make their money back.But on the other hand… we evolved to build our microbiota from our food, not supplements. I drink raw goat milk kefir every day, several times a day. Want to get into fermented vegetables soon.

    • Jill September 19, 2011, 11:18 pm

      I agree, as probiotics become more “mainstream” they probably will become subject to scrutiny by the FDA. That will stink.

      Are you in the UK? Mutaflor is not available here in the states and I have seen the studies for use in IBD.

    • lucinda hustin January 13, 2012, 9:27 pm

      I wonder if you can purchace your favorite probiotic and grow it at home in milk or vedgies or in flour& water? if that was possible you would have an endless suply.

  • BeeHealthy Farms September 21, 2011, 4:01 pm

    Probiotics were also discovered in fresh honey or nectar ready to be covered in wax. Two researchers shared the results of their great find, which is not only important to humans but to honeybees as well.

  • Angela Lynn January 5, 2012, 3:51 pm

    Home made kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and NO sugar or wheat. I am now pain free and do not need those steroid injections in my back to the tune of $3K per visit. No inflammation = no pain. Probiotics = healthy gut, works for me! It is good the benefits are finally being voiced but also sad our government makes it illegal to sell raw milk (here in GA.) except as pet food. Something is very wrong when it is not legal to eat wholesome food because some dumb@ss has declared it unsafe.

  • Kim April 2, 2012, 12:16 am

    Probiotics CURED my 1-yr-old of c. diff. She had never been on antibiotics or been hospitalized. She may have acquired it from me at some point, as I had a history of antibiotic use due to mitral valve prolapse. Regardless of how she contracted it, the pediatrician wanted to put her on vancomycin – YIKES, NO WAY. I asked about probiotic use, and lo and behold, he responded quite favorably! He said there was a 90% cure rate! Well, why didn’t he mention this safe treatment FIRST? $$$$ of course. Within a week of starting my baby on probiotics, she had improved drastically, and within 5-6 weeks, she was completely cured. I get my probiotics through Dr. Mayer Eisenstein.

    • Jill April 2, 2012, 1:20 am

      Hi Kim,
      ‘Thanks for sharing that great success story. It baffles me that MD’s don’t practice, “first do no harm”…

      You are a great mom for advocating as you did!

  • Martina April 29, 2012, 10:43 pm

    Thanks for the comment Kim!
    My 2 1/2 yr old was positive for C. Diff. 5 days ago. I have her on GAPS Intro right now. We seem to be stuck in between stage 1& 2:( there has been good improvement but, I expected the diarrhea to be gone by now. How intense were those 5-6 wks? I feel like it is a roller coaster! Doing well one stool and then bad the next…. She is taking Biokult Probiotic. (it has been 9 days on the diet and we have had NO fits or tantrums! Hooray! They had been happening twice daily)

  • This very blog is really educating and diverting. I have picked many interesting advices out of this blog. I’d love to return again and again. Cheers!

  • Odile October 19, 2012, 4:15 pm

    Hey, could you tell us which probiotic is for ileostomy victims? Googled but couldn’t find it. Thanks.

  • リモワ スーツケース October 17, 2013, 8:04 pm