4 Interesting Facts You Should Know About Probiotics
Published February 26, 2015
There's a lot of gray area when it comes to probiotics and our health. While there's not a definitive link, more and more studies suggest positive effects from taking probiotics. A boost in immune function is a prime example.  While many have speculated antibiotics–by decreasing bacteria–are responsible for rising obesity, one recent study commented lower levels of bacteria could actually cause a person to be overweight.  The human gut is home to a plethora of bacteria—some good, some bad—and as "good" bacteria, probiotics could help maintain that balance; but, there's one thing we can probably all agree on: a healthy gut is a happy gut.
4 Probiotic Facts
Probiotics are commonly associated with improving digestion, but there's so much more. Beneficial bacteria is not only essential for digesting food and assimilating nutrients, it's also important for mood support, cardiovascular health, and a powerful immune system. Here are 4 interesting facts you really should know about probiotics.
1. Probiotics Begin Before Birth
At one time, most scientists believed a newborn's gut was sterile–that it collected microbes during birth and in the first few years of life; however, a recent study suggested the child gets many of those microbes before birth.  Another study looked at placental tissue after birth and noted many similarities with bacteria in the mother's mouth. This casts doubt on the belief the placenta is sterile, suggesting a child's exposure to bacteria–good and bad—begins before birth. 
2. Probiotics Are Good for Your Mental Health
In the past, many scientists have been skeptical of claims that probiotics could influence your mental health, but now there's a hard link between the two. A new study suggests improper levels of certain gut bacteria could be linked to behavioral conditions like autism and depression.  Another report went further and examined the link between probiotic imbalances and autism, suggesting probiotic treatments could help autistic children.  While all the research is still new, there seems to be a developing connection between the microbiome (your gut's bacteria) and the brain.
3. Probiotics Influence Heart Health
While diet and exercise have always been thought to support a healthy heart, a new finding suggests the microbiome could also play an important role. In one study using probiotics to lower the presence of some bacteria, the amount of leptin—a hormone implicated in heart health—in the blood reduced.  While the study only looked at rats, the lower levels of leptin coincided with a decreased risk of heart damage. So far, it has created enough buzz to warrant human trials.
4. Farmers Are Making the Switch to Probiotics for Livestock
Not that long ago, I wrote about how antibiotic use is on the rise in livestock. The FDA even estimates farm animals consume about 80 percent of antibiotics in the U.S.  With this increase, doctors are seeing more and more critically ill (human) patients immune to antibiotics. How does this happen? One theory is the overdosed animals become resistant to serious bacteria and spread that resistance. The Canadian government is even funding a study to tackle this serious issue. By feeding a probiotic and antioxidant mixture to livestock, the hope is that farmers can, one day, stop using antibiotics completely.
One Final Thought
While probiotics are likely very beneficial to your health, keep in mind they won't solve all your problems.  I only mention this for you to remain cautious–to do your research before investing. Probiotics should be worth about $45 billion by 2018.  Before you add yourself to that statistic, think about how you intend to use them, but also keep in mind that the Japanese woman's life expectancy is one of the longest, and the country accounts for over half of the world's probiotic use.
How about it? Do you use probiotics for your health? Tell us about it in the comments!
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM