Lactic acid bacteria as probiotics

Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2006 Sep;7(2):73-89.


A number of Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacterium sp, Saccharomyces boulardii, and some other microbes have been proposed as and are used as probiotic strains, i.e. live microorganisms as food supplement in order to benefit health. The health claims range from rather vague as regulation of bowel activity and increasing of well-being to more specific, such as exerting antagonistic effect on the gastroenteric pathogens Clostridium difficile, Campylobacter jejuni, Helicobacter pylori and rotavirus, neutralising food mutagens produced in colon, shifting the immune response towards a Th2 response, and thereby alleviating allergic reactions, and lowering serum cholesterol (Tannock, 2002). Unfortunately, most publications are case reports, uncontrolled studies in humans, or reports of animal or in vitro studies. Whether or not the probiotic strains employed shall be of human origin is a matter of debate but this is not a matter of concern, as long as the strains can be shown to survive the transport in the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract and to colonise the human large intestine. This includes survival in the stressful environment of the stomach - acidic pH and bile - with induction of new genes encoding a number of stress proteins. Since the availability of antioxidants decreases rostrally in the GI tract production of antioxidants by colonic bacteria provides a beneficial effect in scavenging free radicals. LAB strains commonly produce antimicrobial substance(s) with activity against the homologous strain, but LAB strains also often produce microbicidal substances with effect against gastric and intestinal pathogens and other microbes, or compete for cell surface and mucin binding sites. This could be the mechanism behind reports that some probiotic strains inhibit or decrease translocation of bacteria from the gut to the liver. A protective effect against cancer development can be ascribed to binding of mutagens by intestinal bacteria, reduction of the enzymes beta-glucuronidase and beta-glucosidase, and deconjugation of bile acids, or merely by enhancing the immune system of the host. The latter has attracted considerable interest, and LAB have been tested in several clinical trials in allergic diseases. Characteristics ascribed to a probiotic strain are in general strain specific, and individual strains have to be tested for each property. Survival of strains during production, packing and storage of a viable cell mass has to be tested and declared.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibiosis
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Bifidobacterium* / physiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Lactobacillus* / physiology
  • Probiotics* / adverse effects


  • Antioxidants