Science has determined that chronic inflammation plays a role in many diseases, including those that are commonly understood as inflammatory diseases as well as others that were not originally connected with inflammation, such as obesity and diabetes. Now it appears that probiotics, healthy bacteria that live in the gut, may be a key to help treat many inflammation-associated diseases, like ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. Probiotics may also help alleviate many of the uncomfortable symptoms experienced by people who must take antibiotics for extended periods of time.
The Role of Probiotics in Fighting Inflammation
In healthy people, inflammation helps the body fight off infection. When inflammation doesn’t switch off
at the appropriate time, however, it can lead to tissue damage, swelling and chronic pain. Among the diseases believed to be connected to chronic inflammation are psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome. A number of recent studies have suggested that probiotics – the healthy bacteria that help your body digest foods and ward off infection – actually help reduce inflammation, which will lead to them trying to find the best probiotic supplement for their specific needs. In one study, people who had an inflammatory disease took a specific strain of probiotics for eight weeks. At the end of that period, they had significantly lower levels of inflammation than people who had taken a placebo. Healthy people who took the probiotic bacteria also showed a reduction in inflammation.
However, the study only examined the effects of one particular strain of probiotics, and other studies with probiotics have suggested that they increase immune system function rather than decrease it. These things aren’t necessarily contrary, though, suggest some doctors. In fact, using the term “probiotics” might just add to the confusion over exactly how and what they do in the gut and the immune syndrome.
Probiotics are not a single monolithic type of organism. A healthy gut contains a balance of many different types of bacteria, each of them affecting the body – helping or hurting it – in some way. Scientists have found that gut culture – the profile of probiotics present in a person’s gut – varies from one person to another, but that people who grew up in close proximity, siblings, for example, often carry the same basic colonies of probiotic bacteria even if they have lived far away from each other for most of their lives. This strongly suggests that the internal gut culture is established very early in life and is persistent.
All of these factors suggest that treating people for chronic inflammation with probiotics is not as simple as eating a cup of a particular brand of yogurt each day. In fact, it may be more important to adjust the diet and take nutritional supplements that contain a balance of probiotic bacteria that are most likely to promote health.