It is well-known that good probiotic bacteria are part of healthy digestion and can promote regular bowel function. Probiotics also support a healthy immune system as well as the assimilation of nutrients in the gut, while playing a role in creating B vitamins and certain enzymes.
But probiotic benefits may not stop there.
A study published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology indicates that probiotics may affect metabolism. In particular, the Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains were fed to mice who had been transplanted with human gut microbes—giving the mice intestinal microflora makeup similar to humans. In this study, each probiotic strain showed different ranges of biochemical effects—one of which was how the mice metabolized bile acids.
You may be wondering why this is important. In short, bile acids function to emulsify fats in the upper gut and, if probiotic strains can influence the metabolism of bile acid, then they could change the amount of fat the body absorbs.
The researchers noted changes in energy recovery, lipid (fat) and amino acid metabolism—specifically effects on circulating plasma lipids and the liver’s glucose metabolism. And that, say that study’s researchers, “may play a role in host metabolic health.”
This study is among the first to highlight the potential of something called “nutrimetabonomics,” which, basically, looks to understand and quantify how metabolism is directly affected by dietary inputs. In short, this study is looking at metabolic effects of the probiotics and seeing how there may be nutritional applications.
But that’s not the whole story. These findings were prefaced by a breakthrough publication (Nature, December 2006), which noted that the gut microbial populations between unhealthily overweight people and lean people were different. Interestingly, it also noted that when the heavier people lost weight, their gut flora became like that of leaner persons. This prompted researchers to investigate if there is a microbial component of being overweight.
On the heels of this finding, Dr. Touhy from the University of Reading, indicated that unhealthy weight animals have substantially lower bifidobacteria probiotic levels in their bodies than leaner animals do.
Adding to this finding is a study from scientists and institutions, including the Institute of Molecular Medicine Rangueil, which shows that modulation of the gut bacteria could directly affect metabolism and positively influence the body’s glucose balance.
And while there needs to be more testing done in these areas, it certainly warrants attention as scientists discover more and more about the benefits of probiotics.