If you’ve ever wondered whether or not it’s a good idea to take a probiotic supplement, you need to look no further than the emerging evidence proving how easily the life-protecting bacteria in your gut can be destroyed.

Previous research has shown that everything from pollution to soda pop to antibiotics can affect the delicate balance in the gut.

This is why many health practitioners prescribe regular probiotics to their patients—to offset the destruction caused by simply living in a modern society.

Now a new study is showing that even regular household chemicals can destroy beneficial gut bacteria. And the youngest amongst us may be the most vulnerable.

A team of researchers from Washington State University has found a correlation between the levels of bacteria and fungi in the gastrointestinal tract of children and the amount of common chemicals found in their home environment.

The study was funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and was published in Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

Though the study was small—involving just 69 toddlers—the authors stated that the results could lead to better understanding of how volatile compounds can affect human health.

Study details

To carry-out the study researchers measured levels of ubiquitous compounds in the blood and urine of the test subjects; then, using fecal samples, studied the children’s gut microbiomes.

The compounds they measured included phthalates that are used in detergents, plastic clothing, shower curtains, and personal-care products, such as soap, shampoo and hair spray.

Researcher also measured polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), which are used in water-repellent fabrics, coatings for carpets and furniture, nonstick cooking products, polishes, paints, and cleaning products.

Though everyone is exposed daily to such chemicals in the air and dust in their homes, it is thought young children—who might ingest them by crawling on carpets or frequently putting objects in their mouth—are especially vulnerable.

When the researchers looked at the levels of fungi and bacteria in the gut, they found that children who had higher levels of the chemicals in their bloodstream showed differences in their gut microbiome.

Children with higher levels of PFASs in their blood had a reduction in the amount and diversity of bacteria. This is a critical observation since diverse gut bacteria is essential for immune defense and proper digestion.

In addition, the researchers found that increased levels of phthalates were associated with a reduction in the size of fungi populations.

The researchers noted that the correlation between the chemicals and less abundant bacterial organisms was especially pronounced—and potentially most concerning.

Understanding the gut microbiome

The gut microbiome is a community of microbes (living bacteria) that live in our intestinal tract. It has become of increasing interest to researchers in recent years.

The microbes in our gut, which include a large variety of bacteria and fungi, are thought to affect many processes, from nutrient absorption to our immunity—and an unhealthy microbiome has been implicated in diseases ranging from obesity to asthma and dementia.

“These microbes are perhaps not the main drivers and may have more subtle roles in our biology, but it might be the case that one of these microbes does have a unique function and decreasing its levels may have significant health impacts,” said the study’s authors.

“Gaining a more holistic understanding of the interactions between human-made chemicals, the gut microbiome, and human health is a critical step in advancing public health.”

When it comes to fortifying the gut with probiotics, research shows that gut colonization is best achieved with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria.

Optimal Health Systems‘ top-selling Optimal FloraPlus contains nine strains of stabilized probiotics. This is just one of the reasons Optimal FloraPlus has a proven track record stretching back two decades! Learn more here.

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 Sources: Environmental Science & Technology Letters (ACSPublications.org), Washington State University.