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How do 109 probiotic bacteria affect gut health?

The total gut bacterial community contains around 1014 bacteria, which is 10.000 to 100.000 times more than the number of probiotic bacteria which are usually added by probiotic supplementation. Nevertheless these probiotic bacteria can have a high influence on human health. Various reasons are discussed below.

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How do 109 probiotic bacteria affect our gut health?


 The bacteria in the gut are not equally distributed.



The numbers of bacteria are not equally distributed throughout the gastro-intestinal tract, but increase from the stomach to the colon, rising from 102/gr in the upper part of the small intestine to 1012/gr at the end of the colon [1]. As a result of the relatively small endogenous bacteria populations in the first regions of the small intestine, probiotic supplementation creates a generally short-lived, high abundance of lactobacilli and/or bifidobacteria.  


Lactobacilli and/or bifidobacteria can influence intestinal health via different mechanisms: inhibition of pathogens, improving epithelial barrier function and stimulation of the immune system. These mechanisms can occur both in the small and in the large intestine. These two compartments of the gastrointestinal tract are quite different with respect to numbers of bacteria and physiological processes. Digestion and absorption of nutrients occur mainly in the small intestine, while in the large intestine mainly vitamins, salts and water are absorbed.



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 Effects of the probiotic bacteria occur in the small intestine


The first part of the small intestine is the duodenum, where the bacterial load is 102 – 104 cfu/gr. The temporal abundant populations of probiotics interact significantly with the intestinal mucosa and may play an important role in determining the rate of bile turnover and metabolism. Probiotics can also improve epithelial barrier function in the duodenum. Tight junctions are the major barrier between the epithial cells and disruption of the tight junctions leads to increased permeability for unwanted compounds. Probiotics can influence some proteins involved in the tight junctions, like ZO-1. Translocation of ZO-1 to the tight junction area, due to the presence of probiotic bacteria has been shown in the duodenum [2]. Also mucosal gene-expression was altered in the mucosa in the duodenum of healthy volunteers after ingestion of  probiotic bacteria [3].  


The last part of the small intestine is the ileum where the bacterial load is 107 – 109 cfu/gr.  The ileum is the most important part for immunemodulation. Probiotics can influence the immune system by altering the balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. In the ileum Peyer’s patches are present, areas in which large numbers of immune cells are present. M cells in the Peyer’s patches can transport organisms and particles from the gut lumen to immune cells across the epithelial barrier. From in vitro experiments it is known that a 1 to 1 ratio is sufficient for probiotic bacteria to influence dendritic cells [4], important players in immunemodulation [5]. In vivo dose-response curves are not often performed in humans, but in mice a minimum dose of 1x108 cfu per day was sufficient for a protective effect [6].

 Numbers of lactobacilli can increase in the colon


In the large intestine, probiotic’s abundance decreases and they become a minor subpopulation in the large intestine, where high numbers (1012 cfu/gr) of endogenous bacteria reside. The numbers of lactobacilli are around 104 cfu/gr in faeces, but this can be increased till 108 cfu/gr after addition of probiotic lactobacilli [10]. Lactobacilli produce lactate, which lowers the pH in the colon. A low pH in the colon beneficially influences the peristaltic movements of the bowel. 






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 Probiotics can influence other bacteria in the colon


The main nutrition source for the bacteria in the large intestine are diet- and host- derived glycans and other polysaccharides and oligosaccharides. One of the most dominant bacteria are members of the Bacteroides. Research in mice has nicely shown the influence of probiotic bacteria on the activity of the commensal Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, which was better able to utilize polysaccharides when co-colonized with Bifidobacterium longum, or Lactobacillus casei [11].  


Despite the fact that some other bacteria are able to ferment fibers, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria remain one of the most capable fermentors of fibers in a competitive intestinal environment [12]. During this degradation factors are released in the extracellular environment, like fructose and acetate, which can be used for cross-feeding other bacteria [13]. These other bacteria can thereby produce short-chain fatty acids, including acetate, lactate, propionate and butyrate. Butyrate is an important energy source for the colonic mucosa. Butyrate can also reduce inflammation by inhibiting NF-kB, thereby inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines [12].







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 Probiotics can inhibit pathogenic bacteria


Among the large numbers of species present in the intestine, three groups can be distinguished, First the beneficial group, thought to be positive for health. The second group comprises enterobacteriacae and clostridia, which are considered to be negative for general health. The last group is by far the largest group, all other bacteria, which are considered neutral. Throughout the whole intestinal tract, probiotics are able to inhibit pathogens[14]. Before the clinical onset of a disease, 109 probiotic bacteria, will normally outcompete pathogens.   Due to stress, traveling, use of antibiotics and other causes the numbers of the resident bacteria can decrease. Under these circumstances, probiotics can fill the gaps whereas otherwise pathogenic bacteria can grow.



For most working mechanisms of probiotics it is important that the bacteria are highly active as soon as they have passed the stomach. The transit time of the small intestine is variable between individuals, dependent on the diet, and affected by factors like physiological stress en gender. The average transit time of the small intestine is around 140 minutes, but can differ between 30 and 270 minutes [15]. This means that the probiotic bacteria should be active shortly after passage of the stomage, to have maximum effect in the small intestine.



1.      Kleerebezem, M. and E.E. Vaughan, Probiotic and gut lactobacilli and bifidobacteria: molecular approaches to study diversity and activity. Annu Rev Microbiol, 2009. 63: p. 269-90.

2.       Karczewski, J., et al., Regulation of human epithelial tight junction proteins by Lactobacillus plantarum in vivo and protective effects on the epithelial barrier. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol, 2010.

3.       van Baarlen, P., et al., Differential NF-kappa B pathways induction by Lactobacillus plantarum in the duodenum of healthy humans correlating with immune tolerance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2009. 106(7): p. 2371-2376.

4.       Meijerink, M., et al., Identification of genetic loci in Lactobacillus plantarum that modulate the immune response of dendritic cells using comparative genome hybridization. PLoS One, 2010. 5(5): p. e10632.

5.       Foligne, B., et al., A key role of dendritic cells in probiotic functionality. PLoS One, 2007. 2(3): p. e313.

6.       Kwon, H.K., et al., Generation of regulatory dendritic cells and CD4+Foxp3+ T cells by probiotics administration suppresses immune disorders. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2010. 107(5): p. 2159-64.

7.       Niers, L.E., et al., Selection of probiotic bacteria for prevention of allergic diseases: immunomodulation of neonatal dendritic cells. Clin Exp Immunol, 2007. 149(2): p. 344-52.

8.       Niers, L.E., et al., Identification of strong interleukin-10 inducing lactic acid bacteria which down-regulate T helper type 2 cytokines. Clin Exp Allergy, 2005. 35(11): p. 1481-9.

9.       de Roock, S., et al., Lactic acid bacteria differ in their ability to induce functional regulatory T cells in humans. Clin Exp Allergy, 2010. 40(1): p. 103-10.

10.     Goossens, D., et al., The effect of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v on the bacterial composition and metabolic activity in faeces of healthy volunteers: a placebo-controlled study on the onset and duration of effects. Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 2003. 18(5): p. 495-505.

11.     Sonnenburg, J.L., C.T.L. Chen, and J.I. Gordon, Genomic and metabolic studies of the impact of probiotics on a model gut symbiont and host. Plos Biology, 2006. 4(12): p. 2213-2226.

12.     Langen, M. and L.A. Dieleman, Prebiotics in Chronic Intestinal Inflammation. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 2009. 15(3): p. 454-462.

13.     Falony, G., et al., Cross-feeding between Bifidobacterium longum BB536 and acetate-converting, butyrate-producing colon bacteria during growth on oligofructose. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2006. 72(12): p. 7835-7841.

14.     Ridwan, B.U., et al., Antimicrobial activity of a multispecies probiotic (Ecologic 641) against pathogens isolated from infected pancreatic necrosis. Lett Appl Microbiol, 2008. 46(1): p. 61-7.

15.     Hung, G.U., C.C. Tsai, and W.Y. Lin, Development of a new method for small bowel transit study. Ann Nucl Med, 2006. 20(6): p. 387-92.  




Effect of probiotic bacteria on gut health

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