Probiotics are living more and more up to their definition as live microorganisms that bring health benefits to their host–that would be you!
This is not surprising when you consider that the human body is made up of far more bacterial cells than human cells. Some even joke that humans exist to be transport vehicles for bacteria. Early investigations estimated that the bacterial cell count outnumbered human cells by a factor of 10:1, but more recent facts point to a more likely 60/40 split.
Regardless of the exact count, it is pretty obvious that we evolved over the millennium as a team and that bacteria play a very important and integrated part in our lives. Without bacteria we could not survive, which leads to the conclusion that a poor bacterial balance in our bodies would be connected to poor health, disease, weak immunity and a host of other physical issues. Beyond our bodies, some research even links unhealthy bacteria levels to emotional issues such as depression.
One area of probiotic research that has seen much interest of late is their potential anti-cancer properties. Additionally, research has shown that cancer growth can be promoted by bacteria within the body as well.
The basic theory is that humans have evolved as a “super organism” which translates to a complex, inter-related and symbiotic partnership between us human cells and a highly diverse mix of bacteria. Together, this relationship brings benefits and survival to just about every aspect of our lives. But the flip side is that when this balance, or as they call it “homeostasis,” gets thrown off through factors such as diet or the environment, then this imbalance can promote disease, ill health and cancer growth.
For example, a weak and unhealthy microbiome (a colony of microorganisms in a certain environment, like your gut) can invite external bacteria to enter and flourish, or allow some bacteria to overgrow and disrupt the homeostasis. The resulting imbalance opens the doors to weakened immunity and a breakdown of other internal processes.
Studies have shown that a healthy microbiome will suppress the growth of microbiota (bacteria) that are associated with producing carcinogens and mutagens (genetic and DNA mutations, especially above and beyond normal levels). Further, a healthy microbiome has been shown to protect your DNA against damage caused by oxidation and it will interfere with carcinogen’s ability to metabolize. More broadly, a healthy and balanced microbiome is critical for a healthy immune system.
And so, studies support the theory that a healthy balance of probiotics provide therapeutic support in the suppression of cancer cell growth as well as inhibiting the spreading of cancer cells. Further research can better define the role of specific strains of bacteria, or combinations, in fighting various cancers as well as prove out applications and therapies. But for now, it is clear that improving the overall health and vigor of your bacterial microbiota can bring a reduction in the risk of developing cancer.
One 2007 study that was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food tested the effect of several probiotic foods, such as kefir and yogurt, on the proliferation of breast cancer cells. The tests were done in vitro (basically in a test tube or tray, not the human body) and the results for kefir were quite impressive, demonstrating that kefir was able to significantly reduce the growth of the cancer cells while not inhibiting the growth of the normal human cells.
While studies have yet to prove that kefir might reduce the growth of breast cancer in a human, the point is that live bacteria has anti-cancer properties. You can check out an abstract of the study here: link to kefir extract suppresses cancer cells in vitro
The bottom line is that your body has systems to handle cancer cells. This is good as your body is basically always producing cancer cells. Cancer cells are basically cellular mutations or errors and the act of making these little mistakes is ongoing. The body has evolved to take care of these mistakes and the vast, vast majority are simply eliminated and never become a problem.
And so, one wants to support the underlying healthy factors that work to eliminate these "mistake" cells. When this process of “clearing out the mistakes” breaks down or becomes weak, then cancer cells begin to grow and grow.
Ideally your body should be able to handle these before process of cancerogenesis, or the uncontrolled multiplication of mutant cells, begins.
And definitely one would want to avoid the next stage, called “metastasis” and this is when the cancer cells spread out to other, secondary locations.
A healthy microbiome has been shown to help prevent DNA damage, to support the body’s process of eliminating mutant cells, to suppress the growth of cancer cells and to inhibit the spread of cancer to secondary locations.
Once again, the simple solutions come to the front. Adding more fiber to your diet (healthy bacteria loves fiber, called “prebiotics”), eating healthy and avoiding excessive sugars and simple carbohydrates, daily exercise such as walking and even allowing some dirt in your life (don’t go crazy on anti-germicidal cleaners!) are all simple steps that can do wonders for your health.
Don’t forget fermented foods, such as kefir, kombucha and pickles, and add a basic probiotic supplement (both gut and oral probiotics–they are different) to your daily diet.
Your body will thank you and reward you with better health and overall wellness.