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How Probiotics Can Improve Nutrient Absorption

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 directly produce nutrients like folate, while others degrade antinutrients like oxalates. What broad benefits could this activity have for nutrient absorption and status? Find out here.

Probiotics & Nutrient Status

Some foods may be very rich in nutrients, but if we can’t absorb them from the gut, we can’t use them in our bodies. What role might beneficial gut bacteria play in this process? And what important nutrients are directly produced by said gut bacteria? In this post, we’ll explore the effect of probiotics on nutrient absorption.

Remember that probiotic supplements may not be for everyone. Talk to your doctor before starting any new probiotics.

Insufficient Evidence For

The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of probiotics for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before taking probiotic supplements, and never use it in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.

1) Vitamin Levels

Daily consumption of L. acidophilus significantly improved vitamin B12 and folate levels in children [1].

Taking L. reuteri increased blood levels of vitamin D3 by 25.5% in a Canadian study [2].

L. reuteri isolated from sourdough has been shown to produce cobalamin (vitamin B12) [3], while L. plantarum isolated from raw cow milk can produce riboflavin (B2) and folate (B9) [4].

Folate-rich fermented milk produced by high-folate-producing S. thermophilus increases hemoglobin levels in mice [5].

S. cerevisiae is also a rich dietary source of folate [6, 7].

Certain Lactobacillus probiotics improved vitamin status (B12, folate, and D3) in human studies. Some species also produce nutrients like B vitamins and folate.

2) Iron Levels

Iron deficiency in young women in south India was associated with low levels of Lactobacilli [8].

L. plantarum was also associated with increased iron absorption by women: from a fruit drink by approximately 50% [9] and from an oat base by over 100% [10].

Preschool children supplemented with L. acidophilus exhibited higher red blood cell status [11], and a significant reduction in the prevalence of anemia [1].

Milk with B. animalis ssp. lactis and prebiotic oligosaccharides reduced the risk of anemia and iron deficiency by 45% and increased weight gain by 0.13 kg/year in 1-4-year-old children [12].

Consumption fo Lactobacillus and B. animalis ssp. lactis were associated with higher iron status in multiple human studies.

3) Other Minerals

L. helveticus increased blood calcium levels in elderly volunteers [13], and postmenopausal women [14].

L. fermentum may increase the bioavailability of calcium, phosphorus, and zinc in fermented goat milk [15], while fermented milk containing L. plantarum showed higher calcium retention [16].

By degrading phytate, S. cerevisiae may improve the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus [6, 17].

Probiotics increased calcium levels in elderly people and postmenopausal women. Certain species of bacteria may increase the availability and absorption of calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, and iron.

Takeaway

Probiotics may improve nutrient status by making more nutrients (such as B vitamins, iron, and other minerals) available to absorb from food. Some species of beneficial bacteria also directly produce important nutrients like folate and vitamin B12, while others degrade antinutrients such as oxalates, which would otherwise bind up calcium and other minerals in the gut.

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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