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Probiotics have been making headlines all over the world, with their recent proposed ties to anxiety and depression, as well the booming market of probiotic products (1). It’s no question that the human gut microbiota plays a serious role in over-all human health, and research has explored everything from the beneficial effects of probiotic supplementation in pregnant women for the prevention of atopic diseases, such as eczema, to their potential role in preventing Type 2 diabetes in insulin resistant subjects (2).

One area of interest that is currently emerging and really exciting (!!) is the potential role of ingesting certain strains of probiotics in order to reduce side-effects of colorectal cancer treatments, such as diarrhea, as well as the reduction of cancer cell proliferation, or the increase of tumors.

But before we dive into that “Rad Research”, let’s back it up and look at exactly what probiotics are, and which foods you should look for in the grocery store to get your daily fix.

In simplest terms, probiotics are living microorganisms that benefit the host when consumed in adequate amounts (3). It’s important to be aware that there are various strains of probiotics, and each strain is unique.

So which strain of probiotic is the best?

It depends on its intended function. In general, a good probiotic should be able to stick to the cells in your gut and thereby, reduce the “sticking”, or adherence, of a microorganism that causes infection or disease (3). It should be able to multiply and assist in forming a healthy and balanced microbiome (3). Basically, a good strain of probiotic should be decreasing the “bad” bacteria in your gut, and will, in turn, yield many benefits to the consumer.

For overall, everyday health, there is no recommended intake of probiotics by Health Canada, but eating a probiotic-containing food each day will keep your gut happy. Be wary of companies marketing themselves as probiotic-rich brands of “to-go”, individual cups of yogurts – the quantity of microorganisms in each container is so small that you would have to consume at least 2 or 3 containers per day to reap any benefit – not to mention they’re often laden with sugar. Additionally, these pre-packaged containers often only contain one or two different strains of prebiotics, when other options contain many more, thereby resulting in a better bang-for-your-buck. So instead, look for more natural and unsweetened foods, such as Kefir or homemade sauerkraut, that contain live bacterial cultures in the billions per serving. (Fun fact: These can also be home-made, saving you money! Yahoo!)

Now that we’ve touched on the basics of probiotics, let’s check out the latest research.

As mentioned previously, there’s been a bit of a buzz surrounding the potential use of probiotics in treating complications related to cancer treatments, specifically colorectal cancer.

Cell-culture, animal, as well as human studies have alluded to the benefits of the consumption of probiotics; colon cancer is one of the most dangerous types of cancers, and is common in both men and women (4). Because of the serious side effects of the traditional cancer treatments, nutraceutical researchers have been examining more natural solutions to help speed recovery in patients.

A 2012 review found that improving the patient’s immune system via administration of probiotics had a strong potential for demonstrating anti-tumour effects (5). It is believed that this effect is achieved through the activation of Natural Killer cells in the patient’s body, which play a role in the host-rejection of tumours (5).

In cancer cases, slowing the rate of the reduction of cancer-cells is crucial, and short-chain fatty acids, which are produced in the intestines after the consumption of fibrous foods and probiotics, have beneficial effects by slowing the rate of the aforementioned cancer-cell reproduction (6).

From a preventive perspective, researchers believe that probiotic consumption may aid in the reduction of gut inflammation, which can lead to the development of colorectal cancer (6).

As good as this all sounds, it’s important to remember that, as with all up-and-coming research, these findings should be examined critically. Probiotics are no “cure” for colorectal cancer, and research is far from deeming them a suitable alternative to current treatments. The studies show promising results, and indicate the importance of including probiotics into our daily lives. That being said, in combination with tried-and-true cancer therapies, there is no harm done in consuming probiotics as an extra boost of help for your insides!

What are your thoughts on probiotics? Do you consume them on a regular basis, or are you hesitant to try this current trend?

References:

(1) Luna, R. A., & Foster, J. A. (2015). Gut brain axis: diet microbiota interactions and implications for modulation of anxiety and depression. Current opinion in biotechnology, 32, 35-41.

(2) Hulston, C. J., Churnside, A. A., & Venables, M. C. (2015). Probiotic supplementation prevents high-fat, overfeeding-induced insulin resistance in human subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 113(04), 596-602.

(3) Reid, G., Jass, J., Sebulsky, M. T., & McCormick, J. K. (2003). Potential uses of probiotics in clinical practice. CLINICAL microbiology Reviews, 16(4), 658-672.

(4) Kuppusamy, P., Yusoff, M. M., Maniam, G. P., Ichwan, S. J. A., Soundharrajan, I., & Govindan, N. (2014). Nutraceuticals as potential therapeutic agents for colon cancer: a review. Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B, 4(3), 173-181.

(5) Uccello, M., Malaguarnera, G., Basile, F., D’agata, V., Malaguarnera, M., Bertino, G., … & Biondi, A. (2012). Potential role of probiotics on colorectal cancer prevention. BMC surgery, 12(Suppl 1), S35.

(6) Geier, M. S., Butler, R. N., & Howarth, G. S. (2006). Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics: a role in chemoprevention for colorectal cancer?. Cancer biology & therapy, 5(10), 1265-1269.

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