Research & Your Health

Research & Your Health is a series of articles written in accessible, everyday language, focused on the latest scientific research of natural health products.

Probiotics May Protect Against Colorectal Cancer

On February 10, 2015

Background: Lactic acid bacteria (LAB), especially lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains, are the most common microbes found in probiotic supplements. According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.” Traditionally, humans have obtained a myriad of such microbes from ingesting fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. However, today there are also many probiotic supplements on the market.

Objective: The goal of this study was to discuss the role of LAB in colorectal cancer prevention and determine their potential mechanism of action.

Methods: Researchers reviewed existing literature to summarize the mechanisms by which LAB may help to prevent colorectal cancer incidence and progression.

Results: LAB have been successfully used in medicine for a number of different conditions. They have beneficial effects in treating digestive issues such as diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis). In in-vitro and animal research, LAB have demonstrated anti-cancer effects via promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death), possible synergistic action with chemotherapeutic agents such as 5-fluorouracil, antioxidant activity, improved immune system function (reduced inflammation and increased production of anti-tumor immune cells), and the ability to modify gene expression. In human clinical trials, the use of probiotics reduced infection rates and improved quality of life post-operatively in patients who had colorectal cancer surgery.

Conclusion: More clinical trials examining the use of LAB to prevent or treat CRC are still needed. Though probiotics are inexpensive and easy to take, they are not all created equally. A good probiotic should contain a variety of different microorganisms.

The Findings in Perspective: If you have digestive issues and/or a history of CRC or adenomatous colonic polyps, talk to your health care provider about adding probiotics to your regime. In the meantime, adding fermented foods to your diet may help modulate your gut microorganisms for better health.

For the full article and scientific abstract, click here.