Most of us already know how important probiotics are for digestion and the absorption of nutrients—basically determining how well-nourished we are. Likewise, probiotics play a key role in peristalsis, the process by which food and wastes move through the digestive system. Probiotics also support a healthy immune system as well as the assimilation of nutrients in the gut, while playing a role in creating B vitamins and certain enzymes. Probiotic benefits may not stop there, however.
A study published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology indicates that probiotics may positively affect metabolism. Probiotics were fed to mice who had been transplanted with human gut microbes, giving the mice intestinal microflora makeup similar to humans. In this study, each probiotic strain showed different ranges of biochemical effects, one of which was how the mice metabolized bile acids. You may be wondering why this is important. In short, bile acids function to emulsify fats in the upper gut and, if probiotic strains can influence the metabolism of bile acid, then they could change the amount of fat the body absorbs. The researchers noted changes in energy recovery, lipid (fat) and amino acid metabolism—specifically effects on circulating plasma lipids and the liver’s glucose metabolism. And that, say the study’s researchers, “may play a role in host metabolic health.”
This study is among the first to highlight the potential of something called “nutrimetabonomics,” which basically looks to understand and quantify how metabolism is directly affected by the diet. In short, this study looked at metabolic effects of probiotics and nutritional applications.
Likewise, the European Journal of Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics published a study indicating that probiotics may have benefits for healthy blood sugar balance. Animals studied had increased availability of gliclazide and lowered blood glucose levels following probiotic intake.
Additionally, the University of Copenhagen has been busy studying how probiotics may help with weight management and more. They want to develop scientifically tested and documented probiotics to be used in food and nutraceuticals that will result in users feeling full. They’re targeting those who are of standard weight or just slightly overweight in order to sustain weight management. Additional studies indicate that probiotics may also serve new moms in their weight management goals. A study suggests that probiotics given during the first trimester of pregnancy may help women better manage their weight after the baby’s born. So, there may be another benefit to probiotic consumption: weight management.
Probiotics might also glean cognitive or mood benefits, according to one probiotics pioneer. Research conducted by A. Venket Rao of the University of Toronto and his team found that probiotics increased the “good” bacteria in the stomachs and also led to a better outlook and mood. The report says that probiotics appear to increase levels of tryptophan in the brain, a chemical that "helps people feel better." In turn, tryptophan helps produce the calming neurotransmitter serotonin.
These researchers may be on to something because more than 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut. Studies say that healthy bacteria, like those in probiotics, have a direct impact on mood and behavior by influencing the production of brain chemicals including serotonin, which supports well-being, and GABA, an amino acid that supports stress relief. Rao said, "We were quite excited with the fact that these were positive results and we felt that probiotics truly have a role to play in mood and behavior.” Their findings were published in the journal BMC Gut Pathogens.
A study published in the American Society for Microbiology’s online journal mBio suggests that probiotics have some control over organ function, including the liver. Researcher Sandrine Claus of the Imperial College of London says, “The gut microbiota enhances the host’s metabolic capacity for processing nutrients…and modulates the activities of multiple pathways in a variety of organ systems.” Claus adds that their research results “provide new insights that regulate host-gut microbiotia interactions and are of wide interest to microbiological, nutrition, metabolic, systems biology” and other areas of research.
Beneficial bacteria . . .there may be much more to probiotics than digestive health.