Probiotics are valuable allies of health and useful in protecting the body from colds, can relieve symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome, prevent vaginal infections and allergies and protect from bowel cancer. Professor Silvio Danese, gastroenterologist and Head of the Centre for Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Diseases at Humanitas and Dr. Federica Furfaro, gastroenterologist at the Centre, spoke about this topic in a recent interview.
The intestine represents a large part of our immune system and if the microbiota, the microorganisms present in the intestine, is rich in good bacteria, it has a better reaction against germs and influenza and parainfluenza viruses.
“Taking probiotics in view of the colder season is therefore the simplest strategy to maintain the functions of the intestinal microbiota and protect the body from typical winter diseases,” explains Dr. Federica Furfaro.
The probiotics are many and differ from each other
As prof. Danese explains, there are hundreds of different microorganisms, designed to perform different functions in the intestinal ecosystem. In order to be defined as such, probiotics must have their stability and ability to adhere to the intestinal walls, resisting gastric juices, recognized in scientific studies.
“To choose the right probiotic, it is best to rely on the specialist, who can indicate which is the most suitable for each individual problem,” the professor emphasizes.
Probiotics against irritable bowel symptoms
“Recent studies have shown that intestinal microbiota is involved in the origin of irritable bowel syndrome; in patients who suffer from it, higher concentrations of methane-producing bacteria have been found, which are able to modify intestinal transit and promote meteorism. On the other hand, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which have an anti-inflammatory action and maintain the integrity of the lining tissue of the intestine, are present in smaller quantities. For this reason, if probiotics are chosen under medical advice, they can help patients with irritable bowel syndrome: in fact, they regularize intestinal motility and also act on the perception of pain”, explained Prof. Danese.
Probiotics to prevent vaginal infections
Probiotics contribute to restoring the balance of the vaginal ecosystem, a barrier against germs and fungi. The most effective in this sense are the lactobacilli, to be taken by mouth or in the form of vaginal ovules. “They maintain the vaginal pH at acidic values, not suitable for the proliferation of unwanted guests such as Candida or Gardnerella, the bacterium responsible for one of the most frequent vaginal infections, and are an effective weapon against relapses,” emphasized Dr. Furfaro.
Probiotics against intestinal cancer
According to some studies, changes in the microbiota would play a role in the evolution of this tumor. As explained by prof. Danese: “There is a continuous dialogue between the enterocytes (the lining tissue cells of the intestinal walls, which can undergo mutations) and the cells of the intestinal immune system, which work at full speed precisely with the help of the right probiotics. Numerous studies are evaluating the effectiveness of different strains in keeping this dialogue at maximum levels, and it is not excluded that in the future so-called good bacteria may become an extra weapon to protect us from this big killer.
Probiotics that are effective at high doses
“Supplements and foods enriched with dosages of not less than 10 billion are to be preferred, because the percentage of bacteria that can survive gastric acids and reach the intestine is less than 40%. In order for probiotics to develop as well as possible, prebiotics are needed, i.e. fibers (such as inulin), which is why probiotics should be included in a diet that is rich in vegetables,” concluded Dr. Furfaro.