Probiotics: are they useful?

Nonfat Yogurt

Yummy yummy, Image via Wikipedia

Ashley Sneed (5 PM Micro) is worried about the things we eat. Here is her warning about whether probiotics are all they are cracked up to be. Here is what Ashley has to say, which she found via the Everyday Health website:

As we’ve learned in class, normal/resident microbiota are bacteria that are constantly present in our bodies and share a mutualistic relationship with it.  Over the years, some scientists have been promoting good health by adding these normal microbiota to foods like yogurt or producing them through dietary supplements, deeming the foods “probiotics.”  What probiotic really means is that within the food, digestible microorganisms exist.  Theses microorganisms include bacteria, yeasts and even viruses that are believed to help improve health, boost the immune system, fight against disease and aid in the digestive process.  It has even been suggested that probiotics aid in treating diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, bladder cancer, urinary and intestinal tract infections and eczema.  However, researchers have been challenging the claims made by companies producing probiotic products as to whether they really do all of these things.

In a recent study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers found that adding microorganisms to yogurt may not serve as the health benefit probiotic yogurts were thought to.  Co-author of the study, Dr. Jeffery Gordon, suggested that adding billions of microorganisms where trillions are already found influences the metabolism of food ingredients, rather than the physical environment within the body, as well as aid against fighting disease.  In the four-month study, human twins, as well as mice, were fed probiotic yogurt.   Researchers studied the gut before and after consumption, as well as behavioral patterns.  The researchers concluded that the bacteria in the probiotic yogurt did not become a part of the normal microbiota, for the body’s composition of the normal microbiota remained nearly the same before and after the mice or twins ate the yogurt.

What researchers did find through urine analysis, was a higher presence of metabolic enzyme activity.  The enzymes in the urine were found to aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates, but more research needs to be conducted in order to confirm this as the main effect of probiotic intake.  What is most important about this study is that researchers were able to come up with a new and successful way to test the effects of probiotics on the body.  This will lead to more research as well as a breakthrough on the real effect of probiotics on the body.  According to microbiologist Justin Sonnenburg, the study has been called “interesting, subtle and incredibly well designed.”

So what do probiotics really do?    It seems that probiotics have a bigger effect on the function of the gut, rather than its composition.  It has been found that the structure of the bacteria consumed through probiotics seems to remain the same, what changes is how they work.  Although it appears that microorganisms in probiotics can make your gut work more efficiently, researchers are unable to say whether probiotics are actually good or bad for you.  Perhaps next time, you should think twice about your reasons for buying probiotic products.

Note added by Singleton: For bonus (1 raised quiz grade), what are examples of foods, besides yogurt, that are termed ‘probiotic?’  One entry per customer, and by November 11. 

Another note added by Singleton: anything added to the thread below must be new; there are several ‘repeats’ in the comments, so please read what other people have put.

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on October 31, 2011, in Bonus!, Guest Post, Microbes in the News, You are what you eat and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Even though I wrote this summary, sauerkraut is an excellent example of a natural probiotic food.

  2. Lindsay Kavchok

    Miso is commonly used in macrobiotic cooking as a digestive regulator. Miso soup is made from fermented rye, beans, rice or barley and by adding a tablespoon of miso to some hot water makes an excellent, quick, probiotic-rich soup, full of lactobacilli and bifidus bacteria. Beyond its important live cultures, miso is extremely nutrient-dense and is believed to help neutralize the effects of environmental pollution, alkalinize the body and stop the effects of carcinogens in the system.

  3. Interesting article. One food that I’ve found that has probiotics in is sauerkraut. Similar to its Korean counterpart, kimiche, sauerkraut is fermented cabbage and is also a good source of lactobacillus and pediococcus

  4. A food that surprised me that I found was dark chocolate. A high quality dark chocolate is found to have 4 times the amount of probiotics as many other forms of dairy products.

  5. Raw pickled beets contain alot of probiotics. Generally, a product that is labeled raw has not been pasteurized, and is therefore probiotic.

  6. Common green pickle is a good source surprisingly.

  7. Kombucha tea has lots of healthy bacteria and has shown to boost energy.

  8. Kimchi, which is a well-known Korean pickled dish that has seen wide acceptance by many cultures outside of Korea, is an example of probiotics.

    Over the past 2 years my dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer and after the cancer was removed he was put on a high dosage of antibiotics. After a while he had really bad stomach pain so they did tests that showed that the antibiotics killed his normal microbiota in his stomach. The doctor then told him to start eating a lot of probiotic yogurt. He then starting eating a large amout of probiotic yogurt but his stomach was still hurting. They came to the conclusion that he was just ingesting too much dairy. So therefore eating the probiotic yogurt did not help in the desctruction of his normal microbiota on his stomach.

  9. With the miso soup and kombucha tea examples above, does anyone foresee any issues with probiotics?

  10. Zachery Crumlich

    Never heard of it but a food by the name of Tempeh contains probiotics. Tempeh is made from soy beans and used as an alternative to meats and Tofu. Tempeh can also be low in sodium which can be great for that specific person trying to watch their salt intake.

  11. Brewer’s yeast is a probiotic food. Brewer’s yeast is used in the process of making beer and some breads.

    • Brewer’s yeast will not be viable in breadmaking (cooking kills it) and the viable number of organisms found in the late stationary phase (who are we kidding? It’s death phase) found in an unpasteurized bottle of beer is pretty minimal. Vegemite (a British delicacy) also contains yeast, but it is a yeast homogenate.

  12. lmgtfy.com haha

  13. One of my jobs is working at Rite Aid in the Pharmacy. Over the last 6 months, I would say, there has been a big jump in customers seeking probiotic supplements. Personally I find this trend humorous, unless they are seeking its use during antibiotic usage, which the viability of usage is still questionable. Regardless, one of the most bought is called align, and it is not cheap. From their site, “Align is a patented, daily dietary supplement that comes in an easy-to-swallow capsule that you take just once a day, each day, to help your digestive balance”. The drug utilizes the strain Bifidobacterium infantis. Although not a food it is edible and my addition to the thread!

  14. Buttemilk

    • As is all ‘raw’ milk products. Commercial buttermilk has been extensively pasteurized, and had additives put into it after the fact to simulate the sour taste of authentic buttermilk.

  15. Natto which is a type of fermented soybean very popular in Japan. It is very rich in vitamin k which is a major part in health blood clotting and protection against bone fractures and osteoporosis. Natto is most traditionally served with rice for breakfast in Japan as it has a very distinctive taste and turns very slippery in the mouth , so many Japanese natto lovers pair it with rice or in sushi or something. On a side note something i thought was very interesting Michael Kearney , the former child prodigy who graduated for University of South Alabama at the age of 10 was reportedly fed natto when he was young by his japanese mother. Now not to say that eating these beans will make you a prodigy but natto still has many health benefits.

  16. Some examples that I found include sauerkraut, dark chocolate, miso soup, pickles, kefir, which is similar to yogurt.

  17. Sourdough bread made with real sourdough starter is a source of probiotics. Also, there is a new fad where people consume “algae shots”. Some people I know freeze them in small cups and take them with their kids right before bed time. I just looked up some of the plants that are used in the shots are called spirulina, chorella, and blue-green algae.

    • Do you think that sourdough bread is actually a source of probiotics? My experience is that the heat of the oven is an effective mechanism for killing microorganisms.

      • Sarah Manmiller

        I wasn’t sure exactly but I read it somewhere. The algae shots is a source I am sure about however.

  18. Pao cai – foreign pickled vegetables.

  19. Hummus:
    Wildwood Organics makes a probiotic hummus available in Indian, Cayenne and Raspberry Chipotle. Hummus is a Middle Eastern dip and sandwich spread made from chickpeas and a sesame-seed paste called tahini.

  20. Danielle Piperato

    I found that Kombucha Tea contains Probiotics. It is a form of fermented tea high in healthy gut bacteria that is able to enhance your well-being and increase energy.

    • Again, let’s suggest novel things that haven’t appeared previously. Kombucha tea was listed several comments upthread, and I posted a followup question to that suggestion that called its probiotic nature into question. From this point on, and for any further opportunities, I will disallow any repeats.

  21. Some fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda contain strains of probiotics, however they cannot survive the journey though the gastrointestinal tract. So directly the cheese is not giving the body probiotics, but research has shown that these types of cheeses can act as a “carrier” for other strands probiotics, which in turn will indirectly supply the probiotics to the body, and can aid in boosting the immune system. So I would like to consider this type of cheese probiotic becuase it is still delivering the good bacteria to the GI tract.

  22. I found that some nutrition bars are actually probiotic, such as Attune, and Macro Greens bars.

  23. I would love some comments on something else! What about my Penguin pictures?

  24. I found that red wine also has probiotics, Oenococcus oeni. This is a less common probiotic, but it lowers colonic injuries.

  25. Katrina Russell

    Goat milk contains Lactobacillus Acidophilus which is a probiotic that helps break down nutrients to produce products that are in hospitable to some foreign microorganisms.

    • Goat’s milk (like any other milk directly from the mammal) actually does not have any microbiota in it at all. Buttermilk (mentioned above) does acquire Lactobacillus from the environment, and is considered by some to be probiotic in nature. Unless you have a citation to support otherwise……

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