Have you ever wondered whether probiotics help prevent cancer? It turns out, there are actually many different ways that probiotics have the potential to do so. Here, we’ll take a simple look at some of the most important ones.
What are the 5 Most Common Types of Cancer?
The last time epidemiologists collected and analyzed global cancer data was 2012. At that time, there were 14.1 million cases of cancer worldwide. Out of a global population of 7 billion (in 2012), that means 1 in every 500 people were suffering from cancer.
And, statistically, they mostly suffered from one of the top 5 most common types of cancer:
- Lung cancer – 13% of all cases
- Breast cancer – 12% of all cases
- Colorectal cancer – 10% of all cases
- Prostate cancer – 8% of all cases
- Stomach cancer – 7% of all cases
What are the Main Causes of Cancer?
It’s a fact of life that some of your body cells are going to turn out less than perfect and won’t function properly.
Normally, your body recognizes these cells and destroys them before they can do any damage to the cells around them. But when these malfunctioning cells go unnoticed, it can get dangerous. They can start growing unchecked and turn into a cancerous tumor.
So, the key to understanding what causes cancer is to understand what makes some cells turn bad and why your system sometimes overlooks them.
Stress and Cancer
Put simply, the more stressed your body is, the higher your risk of cancer. Stress means that it is more likely that your cells will get mutations. It also makes it less likely that your body will be able to identify and neutralize mutated cells.
Some of the factors that increase stress in your body and, therefore, increase your risk of cancer are:
- Chemicals – From tobacco smoke, alcohol, chemotherapy, lead in paint, asbestos in buildings, additives in cosmetics, and exhaust fumes.
- Diet – Overindulging in fried food, sweet food and convenience food; not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Physical Activity – Being overweight and living a sedentary lifestyle; not getting enough exercise.
- Infection – From viruses, bacteria and parasites.
- Radiation – From the sun, x-rays, radon (a naturally-occurring radioactive gas), microwaves, cell phones and electrical devices.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Cancer?
When you look at the list above, without thinking too hard you can probably see a few things you could improve on.
Straight away, I recognize that I could exercise more, drink less alcohol and cut down on potato chips. Also, I’m guilty of being attracted to sunshine and even though I wear a sunhat in the summer, I do love the feeling of the sun on my skin. My weekends just wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t spend a morning lying around with my cat, soaking up some rays.
On the other hand, if I were exposed to radiation or chemicals at my workplace, I’d be thinking seriously about protecting myself somehow.
It starts with knowing what your risks are, so if you don’t know, ask. For example, if you work with chemicals or radiation, are you being provided all the proper protective clothing? Are you being given all the information you need to keep yourself safe?
Once you’ve eliminated all the risk factors you know you can, you can give your body an additional protective boost by adding probiotics to your diet!
How Do Probiotics Help Prevent Cancer?
There are many different ways that probiotics could potentially reduce stress on your cells and improve the way your body responds to mutated cells that do pop up.
Related: Why, How, and When to Take Probiotics? [Quick Guide]
Studies on Cells and Animals
Most of the research so far has been done in a laboratory, either with test tubes or animals, and has focused on colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and/or rectum). Studies of this kind can’t be used to say for sure that probiotics help prevent cancer in humans.
Rather, such studies show us what probiotics are capable of, in general, and how they could work to prevent cancer in people.
The following is a list of the three most important ways that these types of studies have found that probiotics could help prevent cancer. (There are, actually, many, many others!)
- Probiotics reduce inflammation – Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for developing cancer because it puts a lot of stress on your cells. When your cells are exposed to inflammation day after day, they’re much more likely to mutate and become cancerous. So, it makes sense that using probiotics to reduce inflammation would also reduce your chances of getting cancer.
- Probiotics improve immune function – Active immune cells are essential for keeping cancerous growth at bay because it’s their job to recognize and destroy cancer cells. Increasing your immune system’s response is especially important if you have a weakened immune system, or chronic or recurring infections.
- Probiotics act as antioxidants – Oxidative stress at the cellular level is undoubtedly a major contributor to the development of cancer. It greatly increases the number and severity of mutations that occur inside your cells. Probiotics can reduce oxidative damage by boosting levels of your body’s antioxidants.
You may have noticed that, though the studies used colorectal cancer, none of these actions are specific to your gut. In fact, they could be helpful with any type of cancer because they have the potential to work throughout your entire body.
Studies in Humans
Just as with lab and animal studies, most of the research on using probiotics for preventing cancer in humans has also focused on colorectal cancer.
This is both because colorectal cancer is a very common type of cancer and because it gives researchers the opportunity to observe the direct effects of probiotics on cancerous cells.
They can watch what happens to the cancerous cells when they make physical contact with the probiotics. This gives them much more useful information than trying to link probiotic effects in the gut with cancerous cells in other parts of the body.
So far, the results of these human studies suggest that, in the colon, probiotics are able to:
- reduce stress on your cells by helping your body excrete toxic substances.
- boost your immune system to help your body get rid of mutated cells.
- inhibit the growth of precancerous lesions, keeping mutated cells from becoming tumors.
While these results don’t necessarily mean that probiotics can help prevent every type of cancer, they are proof that probiotics do work on human cancers, in general!
And, since probiotics are really safe to take, even that weak level of proof is good enough to make it worth giving these supplements a shot!
Best Probiotics for Cancer Prevention
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Which probiotics should you take?
Well, until more detailed studies are done to find specific probiotic strains for individual types of cancer, your best bet is to opt for the strains that were beneficial in those human colorectal cancer studies.
These strains are:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Propionibacterium acidipropionici
- Lactobacillus bulgaris
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium infantis
- Streptococcus thermophilus
Need some help finding a probiotic that actually contains these strains? We’ve got you covered!
There are two highly-rated, customer-approved probiotics that contain the majority of all the strains on our cancer-fighting list and are totally worth checking out!
Garden of Life Once Daily Ultra Probiotics
The first is Garden of Life Once Daily Ultra Probiotics. Garden of Life contains a whopping 90 billion bacteria per capsule from 15 different strains. Five of these 15 are from our list (L. bulgaris, L. casei, B. bifidum, B. longum, and B. infantis).
PureNutria 30 Billion Probiotic
The second probiotic rich in cancer-fighting strains on the market is PureNutria 30 Billion Probiotic. This probiotic also contains 15 different strains of beneficial bacteria, but this time six of them are from our list (L. acidophilus, L. bulgaris, L. casei, B. longum, B. infantis and S. thermophilus)!
Take Home Message
Researchers are starting to understand the mechanisms by which probiotics help prevent cancer. They have done studies on colon cancer in the lab, in test tubes, and in animals showing that probiotics can help reduce cancer growth by reducing inflammation, boosting immune function and reducing oxidative stress.
Clinical trials in people show that these effects of probiotics are potent enough to prevent mutated colon cells from becoming an actual tumor.
Future research will focus on human studies, aiming to get specific about which bacterial strains give the best results. In the meantime, it’s safe to use probiotics, along with a diet and lifestyle, as one part of a strategy for preventing cancer.
Read Next: What are the Best Probiotic Supplements for Leaky Gut? [Based on Research and Reviews]