Streptococcus thermophilus may be one of the lesser-known probiotics, but its health benefits are very much worth knowing about!
As a non-motile, fermentative, and facultative aerobe probiotic, S. thermophilus doesn’t ‘travel’ throughout the body. Instead, it kickstarts the fermenting processes in the small intestine and can survive in a deoxygenated medium without suffering any damage to its biological structure.
Its special structure also means that it can survive in higher temperatures; hence its name. This not only makes it handy for industrial operations in fermented dairy products, but also means that it’s a very resistant and functional probiotic.
Streptococcus thermophilus is also referred to as a lactic acid microorganism, which simply means it has the ability to simulate carbohydrate decomposition in milk-based products and generate a higher production of lactic acid. When using S. thermophilus for making fermented products, dairy manufacturers usually pair it with Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Together, these two strains have a symbiotic relationship which enhances the fermentation and maturation activities of various dairy products, especially cheese and yoghurt.
Although the name ‘streptococcus’ would make most people think of pathogenic bacteria. However, S. thermophilus is one of the strains that has been clinically proven as a ‘pro-life’ organisms, along with Streptococcus salivarius. Although other strains of the Streptococcus genus are linked to various health threat, such as throat infections (Streptococcus pyogenes) and pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae), S. thermophilus is quite the opposite!
In fact, Streptococcus thermophilus lacks genes or surface protein that pathogenic streptococci use to adhere to mucosal surfaces and evade host defense mechanisms. It is widely accepted as a safe probiotic for general consumption and is now one of the most widespread bacteria used in the production of both dairy and supplements.
One of S. thermophilus’ main health benefits is in improving the function of the gastrointestinal tract. Because it can survive the harsh conditions of the gut without being destroyed by bile and gastric acid, S. thermophilus is an excellent probiotic for promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines.
Studies show that Streptococcus thermophilus is best used in combination with other probiotics such as Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Lactobacillus paracasei. Supplementing with these strains together has been found to significantly improve the symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and diarrhea.
Streptococcus thermophilus has also been found to improve the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Those who suffer from low levels of lactase (the enzyme required to break down milk sugar) can find relief by supplementing with S thermophilus. This strain facilitates the digestion of milk using its own lactic acid, reducing the symptoms caused by intolerance.
A weak immune system has also been shown to benefit significantly from Streptococcus thermophilus. This helpful strain fights off viruses, fungi and parasites that invade the gastrointestinal tract and the urogenital system too. S. thermophilus also helps to reduce gut inflammation, decrease pathogen activity and improve overall health. Infants treated with a combination of B. bifidum and Streptococcus thermophilus were found to experience fewer occurrences of rotavirus diarrhea. This suggests that S. thermophilus is a valuable addition to any diet.
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