Mention the word “strep” and a shudder might go down the spine. It conjures an image of a debilitating illness that can keep you on your back for days. And while the Streptococcus family of bacteria largely deserves its bad reputation, there are actually bacteria within that group that are good for us. One of these is Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus), a probiotic bacterium that can actually provide several health benefits.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Before we get to the benefits of S. thermophilus, let’s take a quick look at why the Streptococcus family in general is feared by most. Some of these bacteria are extremely pathogenic. S. pyogenes, for example, is not only responsible for strep throat, but a host of other maladies. These include tonsillitis, severe upper respiratory infections, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, impetigo, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and more.
It’s almost impossible to imagine that any bacterium from the Streptococcus group could provide any health benefits whatsoever, but S. thermophilus can. These are just a few of them:
thermophilus, like other probiotic bacteria, help to ensure there’s a good balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in the “gut,” a term often used to describe the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotic bacteria fight the bad ones that can contribute to digestive disorders such as diarrhea, indigestion, and upset stomach. S. thermophilus also helps strengthen the intestinal wall, reducing the chances that waste products can move through that wall and enter the bloodstream. This is a condition known as “leaky gut.”
The bacterium has also been shown to be effective in reducing bouts of severe diarrhea in infants and small children. One study involved 157 children between the ages of six months and three years who were given two types of formulas. One group received a formula containing the S. thermophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis probiotic bacteria. The other received formula that contained no probiotics. While 31 percent of the children given the non-probiotic formula developed diarrhea, only 16 percent who received the probiotic formula experienced an attack.
A fairly recent development in the fight against kidney disease is a treatment known as enteric dialysis. This is, in a nutshell, a less expensive alternative to traditional dialysis treatments. S. thermophilus, studies show, can help to increase the efficiency of this new treatment option. Researchers believe it does so by helping to break down a toxin known as urea, which patients suffering from kidney disease can’t eliminate from their bodies.
If a baby is described as “colicky,” that typically means that he or she cries a great deal more than a normal infant. This is usually characterized by several crying episodes that can last for hours. While doctors aren’t sure exactly why this occurs, one theory is that some sort of gastrointestinal distress is taking place. Studies show that adding S. thermophilus to baby formula may help to reduce colic in some infants.
Inhibiting Clostridium Difficile Development
One of the worst types of bacteria is Clostridium difficile, which is known as a “superbug” because it is so resistant to antibiotics. C. difficile is notorious for thriving in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities, leading to problems ranging from diarrhea to potentially fatal colon inflammation flare-ups. Along with other probiotic bacteria, S. thermophilus has been shown to help inhibit the development of C. difficile in medical settings.
Potential Cardiovascular Benefits
One of the leading causes of atherosclerosis, commonly referred to as hardening of the arteries, is the excess accumulation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. S. thermophilus has been shown to bind to LDL, or “bad” cholesterol molecules, and help keep them from getting to the bloodstream and eventually sticking to arterial walls.
How to Find S. Thermophilus
Probiotics are found in certain fermented foods. However, the best way to make sure you have an ample supply is to purchase a supplement. Whether you prefer a capsule or you’d rather mix yours with a drink, you need to look at the label carefully before you make your purchase.
Any quality probiotic product will have a detailed list of ingredients. Not only should it contain S. thermophilus, but other beneficial bacteria as well in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families. If you don’t see these bacteria listed, move on to another product.
Also, if the bacteria within a probiotic aren’t alive when you ingest them, they obviously won’t do you any good. Make sure the label states that the product is “viable until expiration date.” If the label reads “viable at the time of manufacture,” that only means the bacteria were alive when the product was made. There’s no guarantee they’ll still be viable when you use it.
Are There Side Effects?
All probiotic products are generally safe for people who are in good overall health. Some people experience minor side effects such as a bit of bloating or gas, but that’s about all. However, if you have immune system problems or you have a severe intestinal condition, you need to talk with your doctor before taking any kind of supplement. The reason is that probiotic use can sometimes worsen certain intestinal and immune system conditions. In addition, if you have recently undergone surgery, you’re pregnant, or you use a catheter, your doctor may try to steer you away from probiotics.
Theophilus shows promise as one of the probiotic bacteria that may be able to deliver substantial health benefits. But much more research needs to be conducted before anyone can say with any certainty that it, or any other probiotic, can definitely address any specific health condition. If you’re in good health, however, there’s no risk in making sure you get more of this good bacteria into your system.