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Can Probiotics Help Detox?

Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:

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Some species of probiotic bacteria bind and even degrade some toxins and pollutants that can wreak havoc on the human body. Does this activity translate into the environment of the human gut? Read on to learn more.

Probiotics for Detox?

Certain probiotic bacteria have demonstrated an ability to bind to some toxins (like heavy metals) and even degrade others (like certain organophosphate pesticides). Could probiotic supplements help prevent damage to the human body caused by such toxins? In this post, we’ll discuss the evidence that suggests just that.

Remember to talk to your doctor before adding a probiotic supplement to your daily routine, and never use probiotics as a replacement for a doctor’s prescription or recommendation.

Insufficient Evidence For

1) Toxins and Pollutants

Dietary exposure to heavy metals has detrimental effects on human and animal health, even at low concentrations. L. rhamnosus and P. freudenreichii, alone or in combination, were found to bind cadmium and lead efficiently at the low concentration ranges commonly observed in foods [1].

Furthermore, dietary supplementation with L. rhamnosus reduced the absorption and toxicity of consumed organophosphate pesticides in Drosophila [2].

L. plantarum alleviated cadmium-induced cytotoxicity in human intestinal cells and mice in the laboratory [3, 4].

L. plantarum protected against aluminum toxicity in mice, possibly by reducing intestinal aluminum absorption and tissue accumulation and ameliorating liver damage, kidney, and brain oxidative stress [5].

Treatment with L. plantarum alleviated copper toxicity, possibly by increasing copper excretion and reducing the accumulation of copper in tissues. L. plantarum also reversed oxidative stress induced by copper exposure, recovered the ALT and AST blood levels and improved the spatial memory of mice [6].

L. casei and L. helveticus may bind to and inactivate heterocyclic aromatic amines (HACs), the most abundant mutagens in fried red meat, decreasing their concentration and their toxicity [7, 8].

L. casei decreased the cytotoxic effects of pesticides on human cells [7].

L. casei supplementation reduced the level of aflatoxin in blood and improved the adverse effects of aflatoxin on body weight and blood parameters in rats [9, 10]. In one clinical study, a fermented milk drink containing L. casei appeared to reduce aflatoxin toxicity in 71 healthy human volunteers [11].

L. paracasei reduced the adverse effects of Zearalenone (ZEN), an estrogenic toxin produced by Fusarium fungi species in pre- or post-harvest cereals in mice [12].

Organophosphorus hydrolase (OpdB) from L. brevis is able to degrade organophosphorus pesticides [13].

S. cerevisiae possesses the ability to bind and degrade mycotoxins [14]. S. cerevisiae improved weight gain and reduced genotoxicity of aflatoxin in mice fed with contaminated corn [15].

Some species of probiotics, especially Lactobacillus species, bind (and sometimes degrade) certain toxins and pollutants that can cause problems in the human body, such as heavy metals and organophosphate pesticides.

2) Toxins and Carcinogens in the Gut

In a cell-based study, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG bound to mold toxins purported to cause “leaky gut” and inflammation. Some researchers therefore believe that L. rhamnosus could potentially prevent the negative effects of mold toxins in the gut [16, 17].

In rats, Lactobacillus and other lactic acid bacteria protected the gut and liver cells from cancer-causing chemicals found in foods, such as heterocyclic amines [18, 19].

Probiotics also reduced harm from aflatoxin, a mold toxin that is a potent carcinogen in rats [20]. In addition, probiotics reduced biomarkers of liver cancer risk in humans [21].

Lactobacillus gut flora may bind to toxins and carcinogens in the gut. Probiotics also reduced markers of liver cancer risk in a clinical study.

3) For Smokers

Cigarette smoking reduces natural killer cell (NK cell) activity. L. casei intake prevented the smoke-dependent NK activity reduction in Italian male smokers [22].

In healthy shift workers, L. casei reduced the total number of clinical infectious diseases (CIDs) in the subgroup of smokers [23].

B. breve suppressed inflammatory agents in macrophages; some researchers believe it may be useful in cigarette smoke-associated diseases such as Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [24].

L. salivarius improved periodontal clinical parameters in smokers [25].

Lactobacillus and B. breve probiotics supported immune function and reduced the incidence of infectious disease in clinical studies of smokers.

Takeaway

Certain species of probiotics—primarily Lactobacillus species—bind to toxins and pollutants in a laboratory setting. If this activity translates into the environment of the human intestine, some researchers say, they could help prevent the damage caused by these toxins.

In multiple clinical studies, probiotic supplements improved the damaged immune function of smokers.

Further Reading

We’ve compiled deep dives into each potential benefit of probiotics. Check them out here:

About the Author

Biljana Novkovic

Biljana Novkovic

PhD
Biljana received her PhD from Hokkaido University.
Before joining SelfHacked, she was a research scientist with extensive field and laboratory experience. She spent 4 years reviewing the scientific literature on supplements, lab tests and other areas of health sciences. She is passionate about releasing the most accurate science and health information available on topics, and she's meticulous when writing and reviewing articles to make sure the science is sound. She believes that SelfHacked has the best science that is also layperson-friendly on the web.

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