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The Role of Probiotics and the Gut Microbiome

Published October 26, 2015


The gut is generally only attended to when digestion becomes upset, yet many don’t realize the gut serves far more than digestion. Research into the gut microbiome is revealing startling results, showing its effects on the immune system, obesity, allergies, and mood. Nutrition plays a firm role in gut flora quality and quantity. In fact, certain foods contain “prebiotics” that feed beneficial gut bacteria. The more beneficial bacteria we have, the greater likelihood our health will benefit. On the flipside, a diet high in refined sugars and trans fats may hinder our gut microbiome and influence practically every aspect of our health.

The Many Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics have wide-ranging benefits, but many of them are still poorly understood. Here are some of the many researched effects of probiotics.

Probiotics and Colon Health

Undigested polysaccharides, or carbohydrates, are commonly consumed in the human diet. These carbohydrates are metabolized into short-chain fatty acids by the gut microbiome. This, in turn, leads to production of compounds that downregulate cytokines in the colon. [1] This could possibly explain why some research shows fiber may support colon health. The question is, could probiotic bacteria possibly reduce the risk of colon cancer? Perhaps, but it may also be related to the other components in fiber-rich foods that could be providing benefit. More research is needed to determine the answer.

Probiotics and Irritable Bowel

Probiotics have shown some positive effect for patients with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. [2] Animal models show supplementation with probiotics may reduce the incidence of colitis, for example. [3] The aryl hydrocarbon receptor facilitates detoxification in the gut, and one source of AHR ligands is tryptophan. This amino acid is metabolized by gut Lactobacillus bacteria, thus protecting the gut from bacterial translocation. Can increasing your tryptophan and probiotic intake influence IBS or IBD? Potentially, but the research in that regard is not yet conclusive.

Probiotics and Obesity

The effect of probiotics on obesity is an interesting one. In fact, some experts believe probiotic administration should be essential for patients with obesity. [4] Bacterial degradation in the gut of indigestible carbohydrates produce specific metabolites that are responsible for regulating satiety hormones. [5] One silent threat that may be influencing obesity rates around the world is artificial sweeteners. It’s been said that artificial sweeteners alter gut bacteria and induces glucose intolerance. Research has shown that antibiotics may reduce this effect generated by artificial sweeteners, possibly showing that gut bacteria may play a role.

Probiotics and Fatty Liver

Fatty liver disease is an issue that is becoming more widespread, particularly the non-alcoholic form. Probiotics may provide some benefit in this regard, potentially reducing irritation associated with the disease as well as decreasing disease duration. [6] Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease induced by choline- and methacholine-deficient diets have been reversed upon administration of antibiotics, again revealing the role of bacteria in the disorder. Again, this is where we need to see increased scientific scrutiny to determine the roles of probiotics.

Probiotics and Respiratory Disease

Asthma, allergies, and general respiratory disorders have risen dramatically in recent years, with research showing probiotics may provide improvement in these conditions. [7] It’s theorized that by introducing Bacteroides and dietary fiber into the diet, activation of antigens promoting asthma may decrease. With this evidence, we can no longer blame asthma on simple external factors, like pollution.

Are You Getting Enough Probiotics?

If you’re eating a typical modern diet, chances are you’re not getting enough probiotics daily. Even if you are following a healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult getting enough good bacteria in your diet due to the limited food sources. You can supplement, like with our probiotic supplement FloraTrex™, and also consume fiber-rich foods to help supply the probiotics with plenty of “food.” In addition, you want to make sure you are consuming little refined sugars to ensure you’re keeping a good balance of good and bad bacteria.

What do you do to ensure good probiotic intake? Please let us know in the comments!


  1. Rodes L, Khan A, Paul A, et al. Effect of probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium on gut-derived lipopolysaccharides and inflammatory cytokines: an in vitro study using a human colonic microbiota model. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2013 Apr;23(4):518-26
  2. George Aragon, MD, Deborah B. Graham, MD, Marie Borum, MD, EdD, MPH, and David B. Doman, MD, FACP, FACG. Probiotic Therapy for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2010 Jan; 6(1): 39–44.
  3. Nanda Kumar NS1, Balamurugan R, Jayakanthan K, et al. Probiotic administration alters the gut flora and attenuates colitis in mice administered dextran sodium sulfate. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008 Dec;23(12):1834-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1746.2008.05723.x.
  4. David A. Johnson, MD. The Wide-Ranging Role of the Microbiome. MedScape.
  5. Forssten SD1, Korczyńska MZ, Zwijsen RM, et al. Changes in satiety hormone concentrations and feed intake in rats in response to lactic acid bacteria. Appetite. 2013 Dec;71:16-21. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.06.093.
  6. Tannaz Eslamparast, 1 Sareh Eghtesad, 2 Azita Hekmatdoost, 3 and Hossein Poustchi. Probiotics and Nonalcoholic Fatty liver Disease. Middle East J Dig Dis. 2013 Jul; 5(3): 129–136.
  7. Vliagoftis H1, Kouranos VD, Betsi GI, Falagas ME. Probiotics for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and asthma: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2008 Dec;101(6):570-9. doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)60219-0.

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