5 Uncommon Uses For Probiotics | Chris Kresser
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5 Uncommon Uses For Probiotics

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Probiotics are versatile and can be used in many unconventional ways. istock.com/Buba1955

Note: The Prescript-Assist supplements discussed in this article are no longer available. Please click here to learn more about a substitute, the Daily Synbiotic from Seed.

Soon after the advent of the ‘germ theory of disease’ in the nineteenth century, the idea of voluntarily swallowing a pill full of bacteria would’ve sounded a little crazy. But as we learned more about the importance of the community of bacteria and other microorganisms occupying our intestines, eating probiotics has become the acceptable way to help re-populate our guts after courses of antibiotics or other stressors.

As we’ve continued to learn, it appears that our gut bugs influence far more than our digestive function and our ability to stay ‘regular.’ In fact, probiotics often aren’t that effective at re-populating the gut flora anyway. (Prebiotics tend to work better.) Our understanding of how probiotics work is evolving, and this is broadening the scope of health issues that probiotics can help treat.

We’re learning that the mechanisms behind the effect of probiotics are far more complicated than simply ‘topping off’ our supply of intestinal flora. Our gut bugs (even the transient ones) actually help modulate our immune system, and a robust immune system is necessary for the proper function of every other part of the body. Through the effect on immune regulation, probiotics can influence a number of conditions that may seem completely unrelated to the gut. In this post, I’ll describe five different uses for probiotics that are a bit unconventional but may be quite effective.

The benefits of probiotics go way beyond gut health.Tweet This

Depression

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, using probiotics to treat depression probably seems reasonable. But for the average person whose only knowledge of probiotics was gleaned from an Activia commercial, taking probiotics to treat any sort of mental disorder could seem ridiculous. Unfortunately, the average psychiatrist likely feels the same way.

Despite a lack of accord from the medical community, there’s a lot of research to suggest that probiotics can be remarkably useful in treating depression. I’ve talked in the past about the ‘gut-brain axis,’ whereby the health of the brain and the health of the gut are inextricably linked. This relationship is important and can make a huge difference in the mental health of those with gut dysbiosis.

A basic explanation of the relationship is that imbalances in intestinal flora can lead to inflammation in the gut, causing inflammatory cytokines to be released into the blood. These cytokines can then cross the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation in the brain, which can create symptoms of depression. Probiotics – even if they don’t colonize the intestinal lining – can reduce this gut inflammation and subsequently reduce the brain inflammation, improving symptoms of depression.

Preclinical and clinical studies have shown reductions in anxiety and depression from probiotic supplements, with a reduction in inflammatory cytokines as a likely mechanism. (1, 2) Another potential connection between the gut and brain is through neurotransmitters produced in the gut. This topic really deserves its own post, but for now, suffice it to say that probiotics are a promising treatment for depression and other mental disorders, especially when combined with other gut-healing therapies.

Nasal Congestion

A lesser-known use for probiotics could be in treating congestion and other sinus issues. Just like everywhere else in your body, your nasal passages are colonized by microorganisms that help maintain the health of their environment, and disrupting that balance of beneficial flora can cause problems. There’s not a whole lot of research on this topic yet, but one study showed that a probiotic supplement (in the form of a ‘fermented milk drink’) decreased the levels of pathogenic bacteria in the nasal passages. Other research indicates that probiotics could be helpful in reducing the congestion and other symptoms associated with seasonal allergies. (3, 4) This is especially interesting because in Chinese medicine, they believe sinus issues are almost always related to the gut. Now modern research is beginning to show a connection!

Oral Health

Probiotics can also play a role in maintaining oral health, which isn’t all that surprising once you consider that your mouth is part of your digestive tract. Although your dentist probably won’t be recommending sauerkraut as an adjunct therapy to basic oral hygiene anytime soon, the relationship between probiotics and oral health has been discussed somewhat extensively in the scientific literature.

The ‘good’ bacteria in the mouth help maintain oral health by producing substances (such as hydrogen peroxide and other antimicrobial substances) that inhibit the growth of pathogens, and by competing with these pathogens for space. (5) If those beneficial bacteria are disrupted, pathogenic bacteria can move in and cause a variety of oral and dental issues, including tooth decay, gingivitis, and halitosis (bad breath).

Numerous trials, both observational and clinical, have shown that supplementation with probiotics can reduce cavities and improve overall oral health by rebalancing the bacteria in the mouth. (678) Although probiotic pills taken internally may very well have a beneficial impact on oral health, the benefits shown by these studies are from probiotics that actually come into contact with and are able to colonize the mouth. This is another point in favor of getting probiotics from fermented foods, such as kimchi and kefir. Studies done with probiotic gum, mouthwash, and lozenges have also shown promise in treating oral conditions.

Acne

Acne is another common condition that can be influenced by probiotics, despite its seemingly distant relationship with the gut. In reality, the skin is very closely connected to the gut through the ‘gut-skin axis,’ which I’ve previously mentioned on the blog and podcast. (91011) Just as inflammation in the gut can cause inflammation in the brain, it can also lead to inflammation in the skin. This inflammation can manifest as acne, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, or other skin conditions. So in the same way probiotics ameliorate symptoms of depression by reducing inflammation, they also improve skin disorders through a similar mechanism. (12)

In addition to taking probiotics internally, there’s some research showing that topical probiotics can reduce acne. (131415) The skin is naturally home to beneficial flora that protect the skin from pathogens and regulate inflammation, but these friendly populations of bacteria can be disturbed through harsh soaps and other environmental toxins. Restoring beneficial bacteria through probiotic lotions or spot treatments appears to reduce skin inflammation from the outside, thus improving acne.

Household Cleaners

The last unconventional use for probiotics I’ll mention is in household cleaning products. Natural House is one company that produces these types of products, and they include probiotics in everything from toilet bowl cleaner to all-purpose cleaner. The theory is that while antimicrobial formulas might temporarily sterilize whatever surface you’re cleaning, the pathogenic bacteria will quickly return because there’s nothing to stop them. By using household cleaners containing probiotics, you’re inoculating your house with beneficial bacteria that should make the environment less hospitable to pathogens. It’s the same concept as following up a course of antibiotics with probiotics – antibiotics will likely wipe out a bacterial infection, but if we don’t encourage beneficial bacteria to grow in its place, there’s a strong likelihood that the pathogenic bacteria will return.

There really aren’t any studies proving the effectiveness of these products, but I’d say it’s worth a shot! At the very least, you’ll be avoiding the toxic chemicals that are found in most household cleaners, and that’s reason enough to seek out alternative cleaning solutions.

Recommendations

  • Consume fermented foods and beverages like sauerkraut, kim chi, beet kvaas, kefir (water and dairy), yogurt, cortido, etc. on a daily basis.
  • Consume prebiotic foods that selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria already inhabiting the gut. These include onions, jerusalem artichoke, and fruits and vegetables high in soluble fiber (sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, turnips, mango, avocados, strawberries, apricots).
  • If you’re suffering from a chronic health problem, consider adding a supplemental probiotic and prebiotic. There are many considerations that determine which probiotic is optimal for a given health condition, but soil-based organisms are almost always effective and well-tolerated. I suggest Prescript Assist, which you can purchase here. For prebiotics, I suggest a mix of arabinogalactan, beta-glucan, inulin, and oligofructose. My favorite product is Prebiogen, which you can purchase here. (Note: prebiotics are FODMAPs, which may cause difficulty for those with digestive problems. Start with a very small amount and increase slowly.)

What other purposes do you use probiotics for? Share your unconventional probiotic tips in the comments below!

246 Comments

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  1. I had been suffering from moderate eczema (seborrheic dermatitis) on my scalp for 5 years. I was fed up with topical medications, and was looking for alternative tratments when I read somewhere that probiotics can help. The problem with probiotic pills is that there are a lot of brands where the probiotic is not strong and there are only 2 or 3 species of bacteria in them. They also have to be stored at certain temperatures, which is also why some of the products you buy may not help because they simply contain dead bacteria, but you just don’t know unless you test it.

    So I decided to make my own milk kefir, and started drinking it every morning, and guess what, my eczema completely disappeared within 2 months. I could only tell it was getting better after 3 weeks and at 1.5 months it was barely noticable. At 2 months it was just gone. I haven’t had any eczema for a year now. Also, if you buy kefir from the supermarket, just don’t expect it to help if at all.

  2. I started on SBO almost a year ago. I also have to mention I’ve been on MSM & Liposomal vitamin C for the last three months. I wasn’t sure how effective the SBO were until I switched to a high content, expensive, Lacto based probiotic. My candida flared so I went back to Prescript Assist which calmed the Candida and it seems to keep me balanced. I used to have severe acne and depression but not anymore. I wouldn’t be able to say if it’s because of the SBO or the MSM but I love them both!

  3. Note for those looking for using probiotics topically:
    I’ve taken to rinsing my hair and skin with whey from homemade kefir or yogurt.

    Has helped greatly with flaky scalp and with acne/cysts.

  4. I just recently started using your probiotics and blue ice Fclo 6 days ago to hopefully help my acne. So far it has gotten extremely worse and painful. They are deep painful cystic acne where I didn’t have this before. Should I stop taking these or is this normal? I’m at my wits end and in so much pain.

    • Typically things will worsen before getting better anytime one begins any type of detox. Try to ride it out a lil while. Also can clean skin with apple cider vinegar. You don’t say how many days you have been doing this… I believe typical time frame is 10-14 days…

  5. What pro/prebiotics should you avoid with SIBO? Is homemade Kombucha ok for SIBO? Have you heard of probiotics from a company called Biotrust? Thanks!

  6. I had a bad case of acid reflux and my doctor prescribed some kind of medication.I came across a probiotic and the condition has cleared up and I no longer take the medication.

  7. Can a two year take prescript assist probiotics of I just sprinkle a little in his almond milk

  8. Try taking Florajen and Florajen 3 together. You have to buy them refrigerated directly from your pharmacy. Don’t buy them from anyplace that doesn’t keep them refrigerated from time of manufacturer to the time it gets to your house. This makes a huge difference. 30 day supply is about ten bucks. Worked a lot better than any shelf version for me. I feel twenty years younger and my mood is gone from being somewhat down to always happy. I suppose everyone is different but good luck.

    • I to take probiotics (floragen3) and it works, the dry ones on the shelf works but not anywhere near floragen 3, I take one a night forever, yeast almost had me down but I am recovering nicely. it took many years to get candida and will take a few years to get rid of it. doctors don’t talk about CANDIDA but it’s real and will attack any weak organ in your body, and can kill you. I also use coconut oil capsules with my meals. the proof is in you, how does it help you, doctors (some) are not willing to talk about candida and it’s damaging affects on your organs over time. I stumbled on to it by accident and works for me, curing Candida is easy and time consuming ,but you should try to control it.

  9. Any probiotics specifically that help with yeast overgrowth? I took prescript assist but really didn’t notice anything.

  10. Are you saying that so called great probiotics recommended by Chris are just another scam!
    Chris, please comment on this!!!

  11. I am thinking about the effect of a so called “alkaline” diet in fixing the digestive problems, which is not so often discussed.

    It was shown a long time ago how a “banana diet” could heal celiac disease. Then later this was assumed to be the result of bananas being monosaccharide food and that the problems was related to starches, so it evolved into the “specific carbohydrate diet”, then later it has evolved into the GAPS diet, and by each step the diet gets increasingly more complicated so that the GAPS diet is now suggested to take as much as 2 years even for children to get rid of the serious digestive problems and it is unnecessarily complicated in my opinion, and often times it does not work at all.

    The specific carbohydrate diet also was used earlier to treat autism and such. The problem is that bananas contain a fair amount of starch and so a banana diet would contain a fair amount of starch, unless the bananas are black as charcoal, and so in my opinion this kind of refutes the whole specific carbohydrate diet idea. The other thing about this banana diet is that it was able to heal the condition without any probiotics.

    According to this acid/base balance theory and the potential renal acid load (PRAL), cow milk is relatively balanced, but somewhat acidic due to its very high phosphorus content, while cheese is extremely acidic as it is almost completely absent of potassium. Same goes for egg yolks.

    I think many people have observed the fact that “gas” goes away on a fruit only diet over time even as it is very high in soluble fiber, while a meat based diet, also cheese, egg yolks, with whole grains (acidic) cause frequent gas. Even the mix of much whole grains with even more fruits and vegetables seems to take care of the gas issue.

    One thing that has happened over the past 40 or so years is that while dairy product consumption has been relatively constant we now eat more (hard) cheese and drink less milk. Given that hard cheeses is the best source of vitamin K2, we now ingest far more vitamin K2 than 40 years ago, we also eat less fruits and vegetables, so the diet is more acidic now.

    It seems to me that many of these autistic children eat very little fruits and vegetables, while are heavily addicted to cheese more so than milk. Their diet is usually very acidic.

    The longest living people today like the Italians or the Japanese have a very alkaline diet due to high vegetable consumption, plus only refined grains (white bread, pasta for Italians, white rice for the japanese). Sunshine provides much vitamin D which is indirectly an alkaline component in that it increases calcium levels, and it seems to help autistic children too.

    Instead of all the focus on troublesome components in the bran of grains etc, we could also consider if a major problem is just the very high phosphate content of grains. People like Ray Peat seems to believe this is a major cause of the atherosclerosis / calcium plaques (and it´s a bit like the kidney stones that was in the past thought to be caused by excessive calcium while we now know that it is kind of opposite).

    It seems reasonable to me to try and follow a diet that somewhat mimics that of human milk in terms of acid/base balance. Human milk is very very low in phosphorus and also in protein, therefore while low in potassium, it is very alkaline, far far more than cow milk.

    To obtain the net alkaline level found in human milk, one may need to eat as much as 5 pounds of fruits and vegetables per day on a typical diet. This can be greatly reduced by consuming milk rather than cheese, or by reducing protein intake in general.

    Example: daily intake

    Potential renal acid load:

    500 ml milk + 4
    50 gm cheese + 10
    200 gm meats/fish + 16
    2 egg yolks/eggs +10
    White rice, pasta etc, +5
    total PRAL +45

    Human milk 2700 kcal: -20.

    100 gram fruits/vegetables, around -3. Potatoes, carrots, tubers (without skin), usually slightly higher, typically -4 to -5.

    Example needed to balance the above: -65
    1 pound potatoes/tubers -20
    2 pounds fruits/berries/orange juice: -25
    2 pound vegetables: -25

    This is very hard for most people. It is far easier to just reduce the protein intake and avoid cheese etcetera.

    Another point is, however, I believe that protein can have a certain “stimulating” effect that can balance out excessive starches (so it will not lead to weight gain, insulin issues).

    This is not the case for the Kitava people with low protein and very high starch intake, however, but the consumption of relatively high amounts of coconut fat (45 grams daily) can partially compensate, likewise for their heavy smoking. The consumption of fruits I also believe are more stimulating than starches and so one can get by with less protein.

  12. My daughter has had two outbreaks of MRSA, one on her face one one behind her knee over the last 9 months. Now she is dealing with repeated outbreaks of folliiculitis in her armpit. Treatment for these has been antibiotics which I fear are destroying all the good bacteria on her skin making her even more susceptible to these outbreaks. Any advice?

    • Judith, I highly recommend doing a harmful organism/parasite cleanse while also taking a great deal of probiotcs. For skin problems you can use coconut oil and other anti-bacterial oils. If you end up using some essential oils do not forget to dilute it with coconut or olive oil. Please email me @ [email protected] and I can let you know what we have been doing in reference to parasite cleansing and beneficial bacteria intake.