More evidence is coming to light about the potential benefits of prebiotics and probiotics for our skin. A recent study found that three specific oral probiotics had a positive impact on the severity of eczema in mice. Although more research is needed to uncover similar effects on human skin, these findings could mean exciting new treatment options for eczema sufferers.
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
A probiotic is defined as any living microorganism that is applied, whether orally or topically, to the human body in sufficient amounts to achieve some health benefit. Beneficial bacteria that are already naturally present in your body are not considered probiotics, since they are not administered externally. Similarly, while certain fermented foods like yogurt, kefir and kimchi are often touted as probiotic foods, we do not know their exact concentration of probiotic microorganisms, so the foods themselves are not technically classified as probiotics.
Probiotics are often confused with prebiotics, but there is an important difference. Prebiotics are the “foods” for probiotics (living organisms). The prebiotics can be considered as fertilizer or nutrition to increase growth of probiotics such as bacteria and help them thrive in a particular environment. In some cases, prebiotics can make undesirable bacteria proliferate.
I like to explain it like this: When you fertilize the grass in your yard, you may also unintentionally increase the amount of weeds. Prebiotics are the fertilizer, while the grass is the probiotic (because it has a benefit in this analogy). Weeds, which do not have a positive benefit in this analogy, are not considered probiotics because they are not beneficial.
The latest research on oral probiotics and eczema
In the past, three oral probiotics have been studied for their ability to relieve chronic skin inflammation: Lactobacillus salivarius LA307, Lactobacillus rhamnosus LA305 and Bifidobacterium bifidum PI22. A 2018 study examined the effects of these probiotics on mice more closely. Researchers found that all three of these strains of probiotics had the ability to prevent chronic skin inflammation on mice after being administered orally, with L. salivarius LA307 and L. rhamnosus LA305 yielding the most effective results.
These oral probiotics work by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines. If left unchecked, these cells can trigger a vicious cycle of chronic inflammation, which is the underlying cause of inflammatory conditions like eczema and acne. At the same time, scientists found an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines on the skin of mice treated with these probiotics, further emphasizing their potential anti-inflammatory benefits.
Of course, studies need to be done to examine the effects of these probiotics in humans, but this preliminary research is good news for eczema sufferers. With more research, both L. salivarius LA307 and L. rhamnosus LA305 have the potential to be used as preventive treatments for people with eczema by suppressing inflammatory responses before they create symptom flare-ups.
In the meantime, if you’re struggling to manage dry, flaky or itchy skin, consult a board-certified dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment regimen. Use a customized skincare routine designed specifically for dry skin with a weakened skin barrier to improve its condition and reduce your symptoms.