To the casual news watcher, scientific and medical breakthroughs may seem like a regular occurrence. The media continually reports on advancements to help fight some of our greatest enemies including cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases.
But in reality, these achievements are few and far between; for some branches of health, they are quite rare. Which is why when several announcements are made in the short span of one week, it's considered a time to celebrate.
For the world of probiotics, this past week has been one such occasion as three separate declarations have shown just how beneficial and important good germs can be.
In the most hailed of the three studies, a group from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA led by Kirsten Tillisch published the results of a study that showed how probiotics can help to keep a person calm and less stressed.
To prove this, the team provided 36 women with a fermented milk product containing several different probiotic bacteria, a regular milk-based product or no product at all. The testing was fairly straightforward: while undergoing an MRI, a woman was shown photos of different faces. If she felt either fear or anger, she would register her reaction by pressing a button. The researchers would then monitor emotional responses during this testing and determine if there were any differences between the groups.
What Tillisch and her colleagues found was that after only a week of taking the probiotics, women tended to be calmer and less likely to experience negative emotions. The overall result was that probiotics help to keep a person calm and after extended use, may even reverse a negative mentality.
While anxiety reduction through probiotic use has been observed before in mice and humans this was the first time probiotics have been shown to directly affect brain activity. There can be little doubt that those who suffer from mental health issues may soon have natural options to resolve their struggles.
While this breakthrough offers hope for the future, another less publicized study may help to prevent another chronic problem today: high cholesterol. Back in 2012, a group from McGill University published their results from a clinical trial in which they found that a certain probiotic bacterium could help to lower cholesterol by over 10 per cent and also help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by at least 25 per cent. The results were so impressive that the researchers devoted themselves to bringing the probiotic to the public.
This week, the team announced that they had finally reached the market and that their product, known as Cardioviva was available in Canada and the United States. While this may not lead to an overall reduction in deaths due to cardiovascular diseases -- simply because not everyone at risk will take them -- there is hope that over time, more individuals as well as physicians will not only take a look at the product but also give it at least a trial run.
While Tillisch and Cardioviva have yet to make an impact in the world of health, the third major probiotic milestone is based on products that have been in the market for some time. The announcement has come in the form of a review, written by an expert group of researchers on bowel diseases, focusing on how probiotics can prevent infection from the nefarious Clostridium difficile.
The review took a look at 31 clinical trials and analyzed them for any common results regarding the prevention of C. difficile infection. After looking at all the studies, the authors concluded that probiotics can help reduce the risk of infection by an incredible 64 per cent. The only requirement is that the concentration of the probiotic formulation be at least 10 billion with 50 billion and even 100 billion having even greater effects.
While this final study may not have great significance for healthy individuals, for those with underlying symptoms including chronic antibiotic use, immunosuppression and dysbiosis, the results are relieving. By using a product that is already in the market, they might be able to help prevent an even greater complication to their health challenges.
This week has been monumental in the probiotic world although these advancements might be little more than turning back the clock. Probiotics have been used for centuries in fermentation and many of the bacteria sitting on the shelves of the probiotic section are found in the most traditional diets such as those in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia.
Yet the goals of better understanding the benefits of these bacteria are still valid. With each new study, formulation brought to market and review of already available products, we are learning not only how to take better care of ourselves into the future, but also how our ancestors survived over the ages.