The Benefits from Probiotics: Healthy Aging, Better Living – Part 1

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


Benefits from probiotics on the digestion system The overall benefits from probiotics have been clearly documented in research and in popular articles. Their contribution to good gut health can be easily seen in research and in clinical use. And the necessity of maintaining a healthy gut has likewise been well researched.

The connection between the gut microbiome and the proper function of nearly every other organ in the body is being investigated rigorously on a daily basis. These connections are so important that the gut system has been called a “second brain” due to its influences.

A huge benefit from probiotics is their ability to populate the gut system with beneficial bacteria and to help keep this major body system in balance. With the seeming reliance on antibiotics coming from physicians, keeping probiotics in your body is a necessity. Antibiotics, while wonderful for killing harmful bacteria, also kill beneficial bacteria in your gut. Replacing lost gut bacteria with probiotics replenishes your store of healthful bacteria and keeps your digestive system working well.

In addition to maintaining good digestion, another benefit of probiotics is boosting your immune system. Most of your immune functioning takes place in the digestive system, your gut. Healthy bacteria there help keep your immune system working as it should.
Maintaining healthy digestion and keeping your immune system strong are especially important as you age.

Benefits from Probiotics in Aging

In order to fully grasp the benefits from probiotics in aging, we must first look at the number of Americans falling into the category of “older” in the U.S. The Administration on Aging reported the number of adults 65 years of age or older in 2014 to be 46.2 million. This is the latest year this data was available. That number represents 14.5% of the total population. By 2040, the percentage of adults 65 or older is projected to increase to 21.7% of the population. By 2060, the number of older adults in the U.S. will be approximately 98 million, over two times the number in 2014.

These numbers only tell part of the story. Older Americans struggle with chronic illnesses and conditions more often than younger people. Research has indicated at least 60% of older adults were inflicted with two or more chronic health conditions. Conditions such as heart disease, cancer, chronic bronchitis, and Alzheimer’s disease. One-third of adults over 65 take five or more medications.

Many of these chronic conditions can be traced back to the devastating influence of inflammation. One of the detrimental health conditions resulting from both an unhealthy gut microbiome and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is increased inflammation. Probiotics have been shown to have a beneficial effect in fighting inflammation.

A number of studies have shown connections between aging, the chronic health conditions that often accompany aging, and diet and lifestyle choices. From research and clinical practice, it appears consuming a healthy diet, making better lifestyle choices, and dietary supplementation with the benefits from probiotics will allow you to have a longer life with fewer complicating health conditions that plague so many older adults today.

Benefits from probiotics for agingIn addition to fighting the detrimental effects of inflammation, another one of the benefits from probiotics is their antioxidant properties. Research has shown a dramatic increase of free radicals in the body due to the toxic effects of poor diet, environmental toxins, and stress. Decreasing the numbers of these free radicals and alleviating the effects they have on the body is vital to fighting aging and the chronic health problems that come with it. Probiotics are effective antioxidants.

Some studies have shown the probiotic strains Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus to improve the synthesis of polyamines. Polyamines aid in the synthesis of RNA, protein, and DNA leading to normal growth and functioning of cells. Better synthesis of polyamines is likely to improve cell growth and function in older adults, fighting the ravages of aging.

Polyamines are also potent antioxidants and boost the function of essential enzymes. Significant, ongoing research is being conducted into the effects of certain enzymes on aging and some of the conditions associated with it, especially mental health conditions. Probiotic strains that aid in polyamine synthesis lead to better functioning of enzymes such as MAO-A and can have a beneficial effect on mental health in the older population.

Probiotics and Mental Health

While the benefits from probiotics improve the mental health of older adults indirectly, the jury is still out on any direct effect.

Some early research has investigated how probiotics may decrease the signals from the gut to the brain in conditions of fear or anxiety. The long-term goal of this research is to determine whether taking probiotics can affect emotional response to stress and other less positive stimuli. This research is still very preliminary, but it does suggest some kind of interaction between gut bacteria, brain responses, and emotion.

Researchers have coined the term “psychobiotics” to describe the strains of probiotics that appear to have promise in remediating some mental health conditions. Preclinical studies have suggested a connection between depression and changes in the microbiota of the gut. These “psychobiotics” are healthy bacteria that can modify the gut microbiota in a positive way and may thus have some beneficial impact on depression.

One study gave human subjects Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum for 30 days. They reported significantly lower stress levels compared to placebo and had lower levels of free cortisol in their urine. Cortisol is the stress-fighting hormone secreted by your adrenals. Low levels are suggestive of low stress. Researchers reported these probiotic strains to produce substances such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and serotonin. Both of these act on the gut-brain axis.

In another study, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome were given L casei three times a day. They reported lower anxiety compared with those who were given a placebo. This appears to suggest probiotics may have some efficacy as psychotropic substances.

Mental health and the benefits from probioticsAt this point in the study of “psychobiotics”, however, caution is advised. Further studies with appropriate controls and large-scale use of human subjects are needed before definitive statements can be made.

This area of research is valuable because patients who suffer from mental health problems can benefit from alternative methods of alleviating those problems. This apparent link between gut bacteria and emotions is one potential pathway in which “psychobiotics” might have an effect. This pathway may be through cytokines acting directly on the brain. There is also the suggestion that antidepressants may be influenced by the anti-inflammation benefits from probiotics.

Research with the Lactobacillus strain rhamnosus showed it had a significant effect on GABA levels. GABA is a neurotransmitter that affects both physiological and psychological processes in the brain. This lactobacillus strain also lowered cortisol levels resulting in lower anxiety and depression.

One possible reason dietary approaches can be helpful in alleviating mental health problems is that there are a significant number of neurons in your gut system as well as in your brain. Thus, the potential benefits from probiotics in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in older adults. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter involved in both depression and anxiety, is in a high concentration in your gut system. Benefits from probiotics have been shown to positively affect levels of serotonin.

A significant body of research has accumulated indicating colonies of bacteria in your gut exert an influence on the development of behavioral and emotional problems. This research has shown clearly a connection between the gut and the brain and significant involvement of intestinal flora in neurological diseases. With these findings, it is easy to understand how gut bacteria, in both a balanced and unbalanced state, have an influence on behavior and emotions.

In a study involving 40 mentally healthy adults, half took three strains of probiotics (Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Lactococcus) that have been shown to have positive effects on anxiety and depression, while the other half took a placebo. Those who consumed the probiotics reported less reaction to sad moods and had fewer depressive thoughts following bouts of sadness.

From all this research and other ongoing studies, there appears to be some promise for the use of probiotics in mental health issues. Much more research is needed before anyone should think about abandoning prescription medications for the benefits from probiotics. Certainly, this research should continue since mental health problems are one of the three most important issues in aging.

Check out this easy to understand infographic about the benefits from probiotics

Probiotics and the Effects of MTHFR

Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is a cofactor resulting from a genetic mutation that converts folic acid to methylfolate, or active folate. Methylfolate is important in the process of creating and breaking down the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. All of these neurotransmitters are involved in your emotional responses. If you have MTHFR in your system, you probably have an imbalance of neurotransmitter chemicals and variations in mood, especially when you’re under stress.

MTHFR and the benefits from probioticsIf this is the case, you should avoid folic acid and take methylfolate instead. But it’s important to know whether you have some other SNPs that affect mood before you go this route. Take care of those other SNPs first.

This cofactor is required for re-methylation of several substances, including glutathione, which is important in the production of some important neurotransmitters, in healthy hormone production, and in liver detoxification, among other functions. If the steps involved in MTHFR converting folic acid into methionine, among other substances, aren’t completed, you’re at increased risk of developing arteriosclerotic vascular disease, anemia, coronary artery disease, and even cancer. Methionine also helps with depression and inflammation. It can also be converted into s-adenosylmethionine, or SAM-e, a proven anti-inflammatory. SAM-e also helps boost the immune system and helps in the production of serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine.

Research suggests nearly half of the population may have some form of MTHFR mutation. Deficiencies in this cofactor leave you open to increased risk of developmental disorders like autism, dementia, fibromyalgia, and schizophrenia. Nothing can be done about genetic mutations, but you can improve the working of your gene through good nutrition, proper supplementation, and improved detoxification.

Probiotics may be a significant part of both good nutrition and appropriate supplementation. One of the benefits of probiotics is their important role in fighting the effects of inflammation and stress.

Probiotics and COMT

Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) is an enzyme that breaks down catecholamines such as epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline). Under stress, levels of adrenaline rise. If you have COMT mutations, you won’t be able to rid your body of the excess adrenaline, leading to symptoms of racing heart, increased blood pressure, anxiety, and panic.

Dopamine is another catecholamine broken down by COMT. It has been implicated in depression and other mental health problems. If dopamine increases because it is not being broken down, the result can be mood changes, reduced ability to focus, and difficulty concentrating.

Changing your diet to include fewer potatoes, green tea, and coffee could help. Supplementation with magnesium bisglycinate and vitamin B6 also helps. A benefit of high-quality probiotics is their ability to assist in the methylation process and help decrease the mental health problems brought on by mutations in COMT.

Probiotics and Monoamine Oxidases

Monoamine oxidases remove amines from monoamines, like serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, and adrenaline. This leads to production of ammonia and aldehydes. If these are not detoxified, you may experience fatigue, brain fog, and pain. The same kinds of symptoms are found in AFS. MAO mutations can lead to increased or decreased neurotransmitters and increased toxins in your body from metabolites. These mutations also can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood changes.

Changing your diet and adding supplementation with probiotics can improve your health in spite of MAO mutations.

Probiotics and Xenobiotic Detoxification

Detoxification and the benefits from probioticsThe last of the important issues involved in aging and probiotics is xenobiotic detoxification. In short, this is a metabolic pathway that prepares unwanted chemicals in your body for elimination. A series of enzymes work on these chemicals to neutralize them and make them soluble. Then, they are transported to the body organs responsible for eliminating them from your body. This process also readies unneeded chemicals produced in the body for excretion.

Unnecessary hormones, vitamins, and inflammatory molecules, among others, are eliminated by the same mechanism that excretes environmental toxins and heavy metals from your body. These enzymatic reactions are important for keeping you safe from environmental contaminants and for keeping your body in homeostatic balance.

It’s important to rid the body of these toxins and toxicants because they can lead to mutations and act as carcinogens. Some of them can interrupt the functioning of specific pathways your body uses in its metabolic efforts.

One family of enzymes that serves to detox the body of these substances is the cytochrome P450s (CYPs). These enzymes are mostly nonspecific, that is, they can recognize and modify several types of toxins. They work slowly compared to other enzymes.

Some strains of probiotics have the benefit of containing and metabolizing xenobiotics and heavy metals. Thus, consuming probiotics of the right kind can help with detoxifying your body of these xenobiotics.

Read Part 2

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Benefits from probiotics