There is no other category of natural products that is more studied and explored than the realm of probiotics, its close cousins pre-, post- and synbiotics. Here is just a spotlight of some of the many interesting studies, demonstrating how versatile probiotics are in promoting well-being.
As you likely know, synbiotics are “symbiotic” combinations of pre- and probiotics that provide a fully nourishing complement: the organism (probiotic strain) and its favorite food (prebiotic) in one gulp, so to speak. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, as even the slightest difference in the type of prebiotic and the strain can confer different actions in the b ody.
There’s tremendous research activity occurring in the synbiotic sector, that experts have updated guidelines to create a consensus report published last year in a peer-reviewed journal). The definition for synbiotics is "a mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrate(s) selectively utilized by host microorganisms that confers a health benefit on the host."
According to the authors, the new consensus will serve as the “definitive reference” for synbiotic product development and resulting consumer education. This was composed because, according to consensus panel chair Kelly Swanson, "Synbiotics are starting to gain traction in the marketplace, but there's a lot of confusion around the term, even among scientists.”
"In synergistic synbiotics, the substrate would support probiotic survival," Holscher says. "For example, providing an energy source for the probiotic or changing the microbiome to support the survival of the probiotic."
In either case, testing the ingredients together is critical. The consensus panel lays out testing protocols for multiple hosts, including humans, pets, and livestock animals, and encourages researchers to consider the effects of age, health status, sex, and other important factors
Previously, the concept of synbiotics (first discussed in 1995) although proven compelling, was somewhat vague and open to interpretation.
Now, this may not have immediate value to consumers, it will affect what’s available for you to enjoy in the near future as your favorite brands develop synbiotic products accordingly, and much more biologically efficient. According to the research team, with better guiding documentation, the market for synbiotics is likely to grow.
Research combining both prebiotics and probiotics actively continues. For example, one team investigated mood state and how either probiotics alone or combined with prebiotics differed or contrasted in effect.
In this review, researchers examined seven published studies for the potential therapeutic contribution of pre-and probiotics in adults with depression and/or anxiety disorders. Of the seven relevant studies on mood state and anxiety, all 7 investigated at least 1 probiotic strain; while 4 looked at the effect of combinations of multiple strains.
In all, 12 probiotic strains featured in the selected studies, primarily Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
One study in this review looked at combined pre-probiotic treatment, while one looked at prebiotic therapy by itself. Every study showed a significant fall or improvement in anxiety symptoms and/or clinically relevant changes in biochemical measures of anxiety and/or depression with probiotic or combined pre-probiotic use.
Species in the Lactobacillus genera are widely researched within varied interesting findings. For women’s health, as an example, it is known that Lactobacillus species in the lower reproductive tract of healthy women can help regulate vaginal pH and protect against takeover of unhealthy bacteria. But an occasional imbalance may occur due to several factors (sexuality, environment, lifestyle habits). And, thus, many healthy women tend to have bouts of bacterial vaginosis, which is caused by a disruption in the optimal Lactobacillus-dominated genital microbiota -- resulting in higher vaginal pH as well as vaginal discharge and inflammation. In such cases, many research teams have investigated the effect of supplementing with Lactobacillus – but according to researchers of a new study, the majority of Lactobacillus supplements do not contain species commonly found in the vagina.
In this study, the researchers compared 57 vaginal Lactobacillus strains from women to strains from commercial probiotic products for vaginal health. They analyzed their growth at varying pH values, ability to lower pH and produce antimicrobial products, pathogen inhibition, and susceptibility to antibiotics. According to the team, several vaginal strains exhibited better probiotic profiles than commercial strains, suggesting that they would be beneficial in the development of probiotic treatments for bacterial vaginosis. Moreover, whole-genome sequencing of the five best-performing vaginal strains revealed that they would likely be safe and not pose a risk of antimicrobial resistance. According to the authors, a wider range of well-characterized Lactobacillus-containing probiotics may improve treatment outcomes for bacterial vaginosis.
Other research shows that Lactobacillus spp (species) have an amazing ability to spot and work with non-bacterial partners to ensure their own survival. This new study shows that Lactobacillus bacteria use enzymes situationally to manipulate bile acids and promote their own survival in the gut. These findings, stated the authors, further clarify and strengthen the complicated relationship between bile acids and gut bacteria and could eventually enable product formulators to design lactobacilli supplements with therapeutic properties, supporting the creation and sustenance of a healthier human gut environment.
Recently, gluten-sensitivities – not just celiac disease – have become more prominent in health conversations. Gluten, a protein in wheat and other grains, is rather ubiquitous in food sources, no matter how mindful we can be about what we eat. Therefore, researchers have been more earnestly exploring how gut bacteria may be targeted or enhanced via supplementation to help resolve gluten sensitivities. Bifidobacteria is one area of research. One in vitro study examined the effects of four strains of Bifoidobacteria interacted with gluten proteins. Researchers showed that the species B. longum “chopped up gluten proteins into the most fragments, compared to the other strains and the mixture of all four strains.”
In a related experiment, the researchers analyzed the cytotoxic and inflammatory responses to the various gluten peptides and found that those from the B. longum species caused the least harm to intestinal cells. According to the researchers, the results of their study mark the first identification of specific gluten-derived peptides generated directly from intact gluten proteins by Bifidobacteria activity and the immunological responses to them by human cells.
And Introducing … Akkermansia muciniphila
It appears that species in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria genera have a new superhero friend that is obtaining more clinical scrutinization. Akkermansia muciniphila has been identified and explored only within the past decade, according to the International Probiotics Association (IPA).
Akkermansia muciniphila populates the intestines and is also found residing in the respiratory tract to a lesser degree. Mouse studies have provided evidence that it can benefit cardiovascular/arterial function, metabolic health, liver structure and function, and bowel function. One study showed improvements in levels of inflammation markers in the lungs of mice that were orally administered Akkermansia muciniphila.
A recent proof-of-concept placebo-controlled study showed that supplementation with A. muciniphila was safe and well-tolerated in overweight individuals, and that it also improved several parameters of metabolic function.
This is just a glimpse of some of the research occurring in the probiotic realm; of course, there is much more! Among the myriad studies both concluded and ongoing is one common key element: pre-, pro-, post- and synbiotics sustain and balance function in countless ways.