I mentioned in a previous post that I am taking probiotics as part of a new naturopathic protocol. I did a little bit of research into the benefits of probiotics which I wanted to share. There are some very surprising results from recent studies that I think could have helpful applications for people living with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
So you know that probiotics can help with digestive problems, but did you know that certain types might also act as a ‘chill pill’? A recent animal study demonstrated that probiotics can help the stress response system cope with adverse circumstances. The particular strain of probiotic studied is called Lactobacillus rhamnosus. Previous research had already shown that this probiotic can support the immune system and, in rodents, how the body reacts to certain digestive issues. In this particular study, one group of mice was given the probiotic and compared to a control group. The mice were then “stressed” (don’t ask how) and examined to see how they had coped. The group of mice who were given the probiotic were less stressed out then the control group of mice – measured by the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Even more interesting: the probiotic group of mice made more anxiety reducing receptors in their brains. (For you biology nerds, they found that in the brains of the mice there were more mRNA messages from genes to produce GABA receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter which inhibits excitatory brain messages – like turning down the dial in the brain). And finally, the researchers found that these stress reducing effects were not present in mice whose nerve connection from the intestines to the brain had been severed. In other words, mice who received the probiotics but had no communication between their gut and their brain had no stress reduction benefits. Meaning that the probiotic somehow communicates with the nervous system! the exact mechanism of how this works is not known – but it’s pretty cool! Given the fact that fibromyalgia is strongly associated with anxiety and a sensitized nervous system, it seems like a good idea to go out and find some Lactobacillus rhamnosus (in a probiotic supplement).*
Another interesting benefit from taking probiotics is their effect on the immune system. Some researchers claim that up to 70% of the immune system’s activities occur in the digestive tract. Probiotics appear to play a significant role in supporting the immune system in several ways. There are more than 400 species of bacteria in the gut, which altogether add up to more than 100 trillion bacterial cells.** Beneficial bacteria, called probiotics, are able to communicate with the immune system. Probiotics appear to support lymphocyte (white blood cell) function. For example, natural killer cells that help to reject virus-infected cells or tumors cells are augmented by certain probiotics.** The production of T and B lymphocytes, which produce antibodies, is increased by the presence of certain types of probiotics.*** The activity of phagocytes, another immune cell which helps to combat infection and consume foreign matter, is stimulated by consuming Lactobacillus.*** Furthermore probiotics can help to modulate the inflammatory response in the mucous membrane, which lines the intestinal walls, and balance inflammatory signal markers called cytokines. By these and other mechanisms, probiotics have been proven to promote health and prevent illness. In one example, taking probiotics was shown to shorten the duration of the common cold and reduce symptoms.
In the case of fibromyalgia, researchers were able to develop a test for diagnosing the illness by examining cellular immunity. The study proved that people with fibromyalgia have impaired immune function at the cellular scale, measured by the level of cytokines. Strengthening the immune system using different means, including by taking probiotics, seems like a really good idea in the face of this kind of evidence. How do you know what probiotic to take? The best idea is probably to get a recommendation from a health professional. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have a good history of safety**. It is important to make sure the brand you get guarantees a minimum of active bacteria until the expiry date (they won’t be any good to you dead). Look for colony forming units of upwards of 2 billion. The one I am taking right now has 100 billion, but that it will be for the short term. Afterwards I will be taking Sisu Dophilus Plus which has about 4 billion. Another important thing to look for is that the bacteria will make it past your stomach acid and enzymes into your intestines (an enteric coated pill, for example). There are many other health benefits offered by probiotics, but I thought that these two examples were particularly useful for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue sufferers and not as well known as some of the other healthful effects. Mmmm, yummy bacteria!
- Study Reveals Truths and Myths About Gut Friendly Probiotics (medindia.net)
- Probiotics: More Than Your Tummy’s BFF (news.health.com)
- Probiotics provide protection against influenza infection (healthmylifeb4.wordpress.com)
- Probiotics, Prebiotics and the friendly kind of bacteria (drgeoffnutrition.wordpress.com)