There’s a lot to learn about probiotics. Trillions of microorganisms found in these foods aid digestion and help our bodies heal itself. One of the most exciting things science is teaching us is its effect on certain diseases. In particular, cancer research shows that probiotics are promising for preventing certain types of cancer. Probiotics like kimchi and yogurt contain gut-healthy bacteria. When you eat these foods, you reap all of the benefits and introduce the good bacteria into your gut. Several studies show that eating probiotics can prevent and treat some types of cancers by providing the gut with plenty of good bacteria. It’s no wonder that probiotics are touted everywhere as a miracle food. They might not be miraculous, but they do possess amazing healing properties that we’ll continue to discuss below.
What Are The Different Types of Cancer?The first thing to know about cancer is that it’s a name given to several types of diseases. Some of these diseases alter the body by causing cells to divide and spread uncontrollably. This goes against our body’s normal routine of old cells dying and being replaced by new cells. When there is damage to the DNA, cancer can develop. Healthy cells become abnormal. Damaged cells don’t die. And, new cells form where they aren’t needed. This excess growth is called a tumor. These can become hard and in some cases, cells from these tumors can break off and travel to other areas of the body. Cancers of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract are a group of cancers that affect the digestive system. They can include liver, stomach, pancreatic, gallbladder, and gastrointestinal tumor cancers. These are the most common type of cancer. According to Cancer.net, more than 27,500 men and women in the US are diagnosed with stomach cancer each year. As discussed above, the gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of microbiota or “good” gut bacteria. These play a large role in helping the body absorb nutrients, moderate metabolism, and balances the immune system.
Can Probiotics “Cure” Cancer?When consumed regularly and in healthy quantities, probiotics have been shown to have a host of health benefits. They maintain the population of the “good” gut bacteria that our bodies need. They also ensure the proper absorption of vital nutrients. And, they ensure that our bodies’ elimination mechanisms function properly. There’s no point in holding onto what our bodies don’t need! In fact, improper elimination has been known to make us sick. By helping to maintain a properly functioning core, probiotics can help protect the body against gastrointestinal cancers. In some cases they might even be an effective treatment against some cancers.
Improves The Gut’s BarrierProbiotics can manipulate the gut in a positive way. They can introduce certain types of bacteria that can improve the intestinal barrier. This barrier allows the proper nutrients and liquids to be absorbed. It also keeps out harmful chemicals and bacteria. By strengthening this ‘wall’ the body is better able to protect itself against the growth of pathogens. A 2012 study showed that patients who took probiotics after undergoing confined colorectal cancer respective surgery experienced shorter recovery times. Another study from the Department of Surgery, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Medical School in Thessaloniki, Greece, showed that patients who took probiotics after the first day of the operation experienced fewer complications, infections, and leakage.
Boosts The Immune SystemThat boost of healthy bacteria from probiotics can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and improve your immune system. According to the Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics at The Lawson Health Research Institute, probiotics can reduce infections. Some studies have shown that people who take probiotics regularly can prevent respiratory infections over a long period of time. While more research is needed to fully understand why these studies suggest that there is a gut and immune system connection. According to Dan Peterson, an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “A huge proportion of your immune system is actually in your GI tract. The immune system is inside your body, and the bacteria are outside your body.”
Fights InflammationAccording to Arthritis.org, people who suffer from arthritis, an inflammation of the joint, often have inflammation in the intestinal tract. This, in turn, allows “bad” bacteria to cross the intestinal barrier. In 2014, a study published in the Journal Nutrition showed that arthritis patients who took probiotic supplements significantly reduced inflammation after 8 weeks. This can be especially useful in the fight against cancer. While inflammation is our body’s natural physiological response to heal scarred tissue, chronic inflammation is when the inflammation does not go away. That leads to arthritis and over time can cause damage to our DNA that can lead to cancer. For instance, people with chronic inflammatory bowel disease are more susceptible to develop colon cancer. By preventing and healing chronic inflammation with probiotics, there is a chance that this healing food could prevent some types of cancers.
Prevents Tumor FormationColon cancer is listed as the third most common cancer on the American Cancer Society’s website. It affects the large intestine and usually begins with small clumps that accumulate and become a tumor. In 2017 it was estimated that 50,260 people died from this type of cancer. Yet, a new study performed at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX showed that probiotics could be used to prevent or treat colon cancer. In the study probiotics that contained the bacterium lactobacillus reuteri were given to mice that had colon cancer. After several weeks there was a reduction in the size of tumors. While scientists are still unsure about how this will relate to humans, this could be the beginning of a new conversation about how probiotics can reduce tumor growth.
Eases Adverse Effects From TreatmentsFor many patients who have to undergo chemotherapy, there are a host of adverse side effects that the body has to deal with. Diarrhea can be a side effect of chemotherapy. In severe cases, a person can become extremely dehydrated. Studies have shown that probiotics might ease diarrhea in chemotherapy patients. When lung cancer patients undergoing the treatment were given probiotics 3 times daily for 3 weeks, 75% experienced a significant reduction in diarrhea.
A 2014 study from the Department of Family Medicine, Yonsei University, College of Medicine, showed that probiotics eased the symptoms of irritable bowel symptom (IBS) in cancer patients. As another adverse affect of chemotherapy, this research is promising for exploring ways about improving the quality of life and health of cancer survivors.