5 Uncommon Uses for Probiotics | Chris Kresser

5 Uncommon Uses for Probiotics

by

Last updated on

use of probiotics, uses of probiotics
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

Join the conversation

  1. Quote ” I don’t understand how you can recommend Prescript Assist when it contains Bacillus subtilis, that produces a long list of antibiotics and thus is killing other bacteria.” Unquote
    Probiotic is a bacteria that don’t kill other bacterias. Bacillus is a comopetitor not a killer. Bacterias that kill other bacterias are antibiotic. I hope this help!
    Note: Probiotic Action is a topical probiotic that work on the skin as a competitor.

    • Bacillus Subtilus was what people took before antibiotics and they still take it in Europe. In fact, during WW II apparently there was a digestive disorder that struck the military guys it was fatal and it was decimating them, so scientist were sent out to figure out a cure fast… anyhow long story short it was bacillus subtillis that saved them, a substantial amount of military men would of died if not for this probiotic.

      Interesting to note now is something ND and Chinese Medicine doctor have known for a long time is that good flora being a significant factor in health, Now it is going mainstream medicine is now realizing sinus infection may be relieved by balancing the flora in the nose , and of C , diff is cured by fecal transplant.

      Next step is instead of antibiotics ,perhaps we will see mega probiotic to cure all type of illness

      • I firmly agree Grace! If you search “TED Bacteria” on youtube there are about 8 videos of microbiologists and scientists talking about how vital our gut flora is to our overall health as it is linked with an incredible amount of disease; neurological diseases, gut diseases, diabetes, etc.

  2. Hi Chriss, I don’t understand how you can recommend Prescript Assist when it contains Bacillus subtilis, that produces a long list of antibiotics and thus is killing other bacteria. Maybe it kills some pathogens, but surely good ones too. And I would not think it is healthy to kill other bacteria like this…? One producer of a probiotics containing this strain says: “One very interesting function of Bacillus Subtilis is its ability to produce nearly 12 strong antibiotics that are potent fighters of opportunistic and harmful bacteria.”
    I have learned that antibiotics can’t distinguish between all our bacteria (the good and bad)? So I hope for an answer as I have been taking both Prescript Assist and other probiotics with this strain (and with Bacillus Licheniformis that has similar abilities).

    • Goodness, where in the world did this information about Bacillus subtilis come from? It is not true. I have taken Body Biotics with Bacillus subtilis in it for about 15 years and Prescript-Assist for about 5 years. I am 77, totally healthy and never, ever get sick. I sell both products and get wonderful feedback from my customers.

    • I have been fighting toe nail fungus for several years with no help, I was at my doctor visit (podiatrist) the other day and he said” 1 part white distilled vinegar to 8 parts water(warm) let it soak for 10 minutes or more”. it has done wonders for my big toes fungus. the Dr. was at the VA hospital. he also said for milder cases use Vicks vapor rub on the nails

      • Interesting… I have read in numerous posts, articles etc. that it must be Apple Cider Vinegar soaks to reduce/ eliminate toe nail fungus. This worked for someone I know.

        • Also, kudos to your podiatrist. They usually prescribe a TOXIC antifungal drug which according to our podiatrist is “effective 50% of the time” which may be an inflated claim and definitely not more effective than natural treatments.

  3. I’ve been taken probiotics for a month and a half now, and my period is nearly four weeks late, can it be related to probiotics?

    • I really don’t think the probiotics you are taking can effect you period. I take probiotics especially for women and nothing has changed with my periods. My daughters periods stopped when she became vegetarian but I have been vegetarian for many years and no problems for me. If you are not pregnant or getting towards menopause I would see my doctor

  4. There are certain bacteria that thrive in places where oxygen is available, hence the term aerobic, whereas there are also bacteria that thrive through fermentation rather than cellular respiration.  There are some probiotics that do not need oxygen to live, which the probiotics which are found in yogurt. Those probiotics will not do anything to your skin if applied as yogurt because they cannot survive in the presence of oxygen; they are the anaerobes. However, there are certain bacteria, these are the probiotics in Probiotic Action, that do need oxygen to survive, and those are the ones you want to put on your skin. Not all probiotics are the same and it’s important to know the difference

  5. Chris,

    I was told by someone who works for a company who sells IBS supplements….that I am not to have FOS because of my SIBO and IBS or INULIN….which flares me up whenever I take it. I have heard great things about Prescription Assist but am hesitant to buy it because of these 2 ingredients. Also, I have seen a probiotic and prebiotic that has 3 layers to bypass stomach acid….is this also a feature in Prescript Assist? Please let me know…I am anxious to start something, since I have been having flareups lately.

    Andrea

    • My family takes Prescript Assist and one of us got diarrhea from 1/2 capsule. When in doubt, take a TINY FRACTION of a capsule and titrate up very gradually. She worked up to 1/2 capsule so far and is fine. Our functional doctor says to rotate soil based probiotics with your other probiotics, rotating every 4-8 weeks. Please research Chris’ website for your situation. It sounds like your SIBO needs to be treated. Most practitioners agree SIBO should be treated with herbal antifungals but I hope you have a good practitioner to help you specifically.

  6. I am searching for help for my 13 year old granddaughter who has eczema inside her elbows. She is trying the no dairy, no sugar diet, and a product called Candikill. With school fast approaching we are wondering what we can pack for her lunch. Can you suggest something to help her in healing? Thank you.

  7. Hello,

    I have been trying to find a solution for my left ear. The past 10 years I have suffered a itch crusty ear that would come and go. My previous doctor would give me ear drops, my new doctor said to just manage my allergies with medication (which I don’t want to do.) I am fairly new to the Paleo diet and all that I have done so far has really helped with digestion and decreased my seasonal allergy symptoms. But, I have noticed my ear allergy getting worse this past year. I do have some hearing loss in my left ear, don’t know if that matters? I have looked all over the internet for natural ways to help my ear and I can not find anything. I need so help on this one. Thanks!

    • I have helped my ear problem just by drinking Actimel yogurt drink with probiotics. I make sure I get all round my mouth.

    • My daughter had in one ear a skin buildup had to clean it every day. The doctor prescribed many different ear drops and creams to no avail.
      My German shephard has in a one ear chronic yeast and don’t know what’s causing it. Well, I ask my daughter family doctor to prescribe a yeast cream for people and she did. Well I applied it to my daughter for a couple of days and guess what! The ear skin is back to normal. I check her ear once a week to make sure it did not come back. I will try this cream on my dog. If you need name of this yeast cream let me know.

    • I had the same exact thing. After going to a bunch of MDs…..for 2 years…..and various prescriptions that were no help, I finally discovered it was a form of head lice (yikes!). A pharmacist told me it’s a growing problem, and frequently misdiagnosed. Telltale signs: crusting itchy ears and back of neck……Because I had them so long, it took months to get rid of them!!

  8. Now there are aerobic probiotic that thrives on the skin. Rosacea, acne and eczema can be reduced if applied where the acne or rosacea is present. Find probiotic action in Google.

  9. I’ve had success kicking a nagging sinus issue with probiotics in my neti pot. I think it was a low grade infection but it’s the second time this has worked for me.

    • have had 3 sinus infections this year ( 2 viral and 1 bacterial). I have a deviated septum and some mucosal thickening. Can I put a probiotic into my neti pot, and how would I do that?

      • Yes, I do it usually once a week. Just open a capsule and put the powder in with the salt you usually put in also, but not as much salt as usual. When you do it you should sniff as much as possible up into the nasal cavity. Works wonders for my sinuses.

  10. I’d like to repost Ally’s comment and ask you to please address it. It seems the most relevant yet unanswered on the page.
    Thx,

    Ally Gobi
    MAY 15, 2014 AT 1:59 PM

    Can you address the controversy around SBO probiotics, namely whether or not they might become pathogenic in the gut?

    “Soil-based organisms reproduce differently than other bacteria that are normally part of our flora in that they are spore-forming. Because of these spores, if a person does not have enough of their own healthy gut flora to compete with the SBOs, it opens the door for them to become pathogenic.”

    http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2012/06/21/are-your-supplements-turning-into-deadly-pathogens-in-the-gut/#QtUW1YGm58Kol7aQ.99

    Also:

    http://blog.listentoyourgut.com/bacterial-soil-organisms-hsos-sos-sbos-etc/

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for this article! This may be one reason our functional doctor said to rotate Prescript Assist soil based with our other probiotics, rotating every 4-8 weeks. I assume rotating is necessary for some people, but helpful for anyone (?)

  11. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and believe there is a leaky gut connection there. My inflammation issues started in my sinuses when I was very young and have been chronic my whole life. Fast forward many years… I started experiencing intestinal issues, then RA in my 40s, and digestive issues are getting worse. I am taking probiotics but am not sure if it’s the right strains. I’d consider fecal transplant if I could find a willing, experienced doctor. I want to avoid the toxic methotrexate and prednisone my Rhematologist insists I take. Any experience with RA success?

  12. Laura or Chris: I was wondering if you have thoughts as to how long one should be on SBPs? In other words, if one is consuming them daily along with potato starch and other probiotic/prebiotic foods, should there come a time when the SBOs are no longer required? And how would one know? Or does it make sense to take them on a permanent basis? Do either of you take them?

    I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks so much.

  13. Hi, probiotics (I believe), built my immune system up to a degree where I ‘fought off’ a plantar wart (verruca) I’d had on the sole of my foot for 20 years. I’d tried to get rid of it by various means, including the podiatrist, to no avail. I’ve been taking them 1.5 years now and I’ll not stop as I’ve had no colds and have felt better than I have in years.

  14. Can you address the controversy around SBO probiotics, namely whether or not they might become pathogenic in the gut?

    “Soil-based organisms reproduce differently than other bacteria that are normally part of our flora in that they are spore-forming. Because of these spores, if a person does not have enough of their own healthy gut flora to compete with the SBOs, it opens the door for them to become pathogenic.”

    http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2012/06/21/are-your-supplements-turning-into-deadly-pathogens-in-the-gut/#QtUW1YGm58Kol7aQ.99

    Also:

    http://blog.listentoyourgut.com/bacterial-soil-organisms-hsos-sos-sbos-etc/

    Thanks!

  15. Hi Chris,
    I am looking for a good pre/probiotic but my main concern is I cannot tolerate any form of diary, eggs, yeast, gluten whatsoever and tend to opt for vegan brands like Now foods but I wondered if the pre biogenic or prescript assist would be a good option for me. As I suffer chronic sinus, bad breath, anxiety and acid reflux… I’m not sure what suggestions may have please?

    Thank you

  16. Hi Chris,

    I just started taking Prescript Assist (2 capsules per day) about 4 days ago. Since then, I’ve felt a little more sick to my stomach than I usually feel… as though it’s upset & I just can’t calm it. Is this normal as a transition period? I don’t take any other medications, except I do supplement with magnesium (Natural Calm).

    • I’ve been told by every holistic practitioner we’ve been to that probiotics shouldn’t make you feel sick. This means you’re taking too much and need to titrate up gradually. Some people can handle only a small fraction of a capsule at first. Some can titrate up quickly. Also, did you read Byron Smith’s post above? (posted on July 13)