Probiotics proving beneficial to microbiome, overall well-being


As Woody Allen said, bacteria—those microscopic organisms only visualized with a microscope’s help—were the first inhabitants of the Earth and will probably be the last to abandon it. They are also the most abundant living beings on the planet. Experts in microbial ecology calculate there exist about 50 nonillion bacteria (5X1030); this means for every human being on Earth, there are almost seven hundreds of quintillions of bacteria (7X1020). Interestingly, an important part of this microbial biomass lives inside the human body. All this was unknown 10 years ago. Thanks to the application of massive genomic sequencing techniques, in recent years, scientists have determined there are as many human cells in the body as bacteria inside. They are particularly numerous on the skin and in the digestive tract. If a person weighs approximately 155 pounds, 2.2 pounds consists of the bacteria that populate his/her digestive system. In fact, scientific experts have spoken about a neglected organ not described to date that has a transcendental relationship with one’s diet. The reason is clear: a person’s bacterial ecosystem is responsible for extracting energy from the diet and modifying or destroying ingested substances that may be healthy or deleterious to a person’s health.

This set of bacterial species that populate the human digestive tract is known as the gut microbiome. Each human being has their own particular gut microbiome, and no two are the same—it is like a fingerprint. However, there are similarities, so the gut microbiomes of healthy individuals can be classified into three groups, known as enterotypes. The gut microbiome can vary depending on age, diet, the use of drugs (mainly antibiotics) or state of health (e.g., disease, sickness). These changes are usually reversible and open the door to the development of new foods and dietary supplements that contain bacteria and/or metabolites (e.g., prebiotics) capable of returning the microbiome to its original condition or modifying it.

Consider the situation of individuals with celiac disease. Children with celiac disease have a different gut microbiome than healthy children. They have a high proportion of Enterobacteria species and less Bifidobacteria or Lactobacilli counts. This alteration is called dysbiosis and is, to some extent, responsible for the intestinal inflammation these patients exhibit. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study, children with celiac disease were given B. longum CECT 7347 or placebo daily for three months, together with a gluten-free diet (Br J Nutr. 2014;112:30-40). Results suggested Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli were increased and Enterobacteria were decreased in the CECT 7347 group, as compared to placebo.

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