Sunday, February 24, 2013

The probiotic...glow?

I have pondered the validity of probiotics many times over the past couple of years, wrestling with the boundless enthusiasm of Jamie Lee Curtis versus the seeming lack of solid scientific data.  I learned at the Digestive Disease Week conference in San Diego last year, that one would have to eat about 6 probiotic yogurts a day to get enough of the beneficial little beasties within to make much of a difference to the symptoms of, say, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  At the conference there were several vendors hawking probiotics and even a 'Probiotics for Dummies' booklet.  I remained sceptical.
Since that conference I have read quite a bit on gut bugs, more correctly known as the gastrointestinal microbiome.  Overall, we have ten times more bacteria in our bodies that we have actual cells, and a hefty chunk of those are in our lower intestines.  So what difference would adding a few more possibly make?
Well, aside from the assertions regarding internal effects, a new paper has suggested probiotics may have a more visible benefit that may even confer an evolutionary benefit.  Researchers from Greece, Canada and MIT in the US, noticed that the fur of mice being fed probiotic yoghurt for studies on intestinal effects became unusually lustrous as the experiments progressed.  They followed up with a separate study on the effects of the probiotic yoghurt on the fur and indeed found daily consumption of the yoghurt with the probiotic microorganism Lacotobacillu reuteri (L. reuteri)  resulted in thicker skin and more lustrous fur, that was in part related to an effect on the immune system. To be sure it wasn't the yoghurt itself that was responsible, in a separate group of mice the investigators supplemented the diet  with the L. reuteri bug in drinking and found the same effect.  What's more, they also found increased acidity in the mucous membranes of the animals which they associated with increased fertility. The investigators thus concluded that the 'healthful glow' imparted on the animals from eating the probiotic yoghurt ( or drinking the 'good bug' in water) was an external display of fertility. Studies in humans are sure to follow, faster than you can say Activia. In the meantime, I am off to see what's in the 'fridge....

Levkovich et al. Probiotic Bacteria Induce a ‘Glow of Health’. PLoS One. 2013; 8(1): e53867.Published online 2013 January 16. doi:  10.1371/journal.pone.0053867