Pregnancy doesn’t come easy for many women. During the first trimester, the hormones go haywire. Hence, some have reported feeling nauseated most of the time. The discomfort oftentimes goes away after three months, but for the unfortunate few, it lasts an entire nine months.
Helping Expectant Mothers
In a study that has never been done before, researchers looked into what helps pregnant women they most. They found that probiotics can remarkably improve the symptoms of pregnancy-related problems such as nausea, vomiting, and constipation.
It is a fact that nausea and vomiting affects around 85 percent of the pregnancies. These issues can and will significantly impact quality of their lives life, especially during the early stages of pregnancy. “The cause of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is unknown to this date. Various theories have been proposed, but none of them is conclusive,” explained Albert T. Liu. He is the lead author for the University of California – Davis study as well as a professor of obstetrics and gynecology.
“Nausea, vomiting and constipation during pregnancy can significantly diminish the quality of patients’ lives. Once nausea and vomiting during pregnancy progress, they can become difficult to control, and sometimes the patient even needs to be hospitalized,” Liu further said.
The Beneficial Microbes
Probiotics are oftentimes called the “beneficial bacteria.” These are present in foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh. These can also be found in a lot of food supplements that are available in the market. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, aside from the usual vitamins, probiotics or prebiotics were the third most commonly used dietary supplement that adults looked for.
Experts believe that probiotics are there to support the community of different microbes, which are often referred to as the “gut microbiome,” because these live in the human gastrointestinal tract. When a woman is pregnant, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone increase. This brings about a lot of physical changes in the body. The increase in hormone levels can also change the gut microbiome. The effects could affect the digestive system functions and bring about a variety of undesirable symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and constipation.
The researchers of the study wanted to determine whether supplementing with a probiotic could be good for their gastrointestinal function, especially while they are expecting. The study took about 16 days to complete and there were about 32 participants involved. They took a probiotic capsule twice daily for six days in a row before taking a couple of days off. They did this cycle several times.
The probiotics that were given were the ones that were readily available in the market and mainly contained what they called Lactobacillus. This was a type of beneficial bacteria. Each capsule contained about 10 billion live cultures at the time they were manufactured. Then, the volunteers of the study logged 17 daily observations. They observed their symptoms all throughout the duration of the study. There was a total of 535 observations that the researchers used to statistically assess the situation.
The researchers had interesting findings. They saw that when the women took the probiotic, they were able to feel better. The nausea and vomiting had lessened or altogether disappeared. Nausea hours, or the number of hours participants felt nauseous, had lessened by about 16 percent, and the number of times they vomited was reduced by about 33 percent, which was a very good sign. The probiotic that they also took helped improve the symptoms especially when it came to quality of life. There was less fatigue, appetite was better, and they were able to maintain normal social activities more. These were seen in the questionnaires given out.
Probiotics May be Able to Significantly Reduce Constipation Problems
“Over the years, I’ve observed that probiotics can reduce nausea and vomiting and ease constipation. It’s very encouraging that the study proved this to be true,” said Liu. “Probiotics have also benefited many of my other patients who weren’t in the study,” Liu added.
New Clues Seen from Gut Microbes and Its Byproducts
The participants of the study also gave fecal specimens before and during the study. The findings were published in Nutrients. These said samples were analyzed by experts. They wanted to identify the type and number of microbes and the different byproducts of digestion found in the fecal matter. The observation enabled them to examine whether or not biomarkers in these corresponded with more severe nausea. They also wanted to assess how the probiotics affected the woman who started the study with differing baseline biomarkers.
They first found one specific thing, and that was that a low amount of bacteria that carry an enzyme named bile salt hydrolase, this generates bile acid to absorb nutrients, was associated with vomiting that was more related to pregnancy. Probiotics were able to increase bile salt hydrolase-producing bacteria, which could be why the supplements lessened the dreaded nausea and vomiting.
They also found that the high levels of the gut microbes such as Akkermansia and A. muciniphila at the beginning of the study were linked to vomiting. The probiotic had significantly reduced the amount of those said microbes, which thus, made the symptoms much better. This means that Akkermansia and A. muciniphila may be reliable biomarkers that can predict the vomiting that happens during pregnancy.
They also observed that the vitamin E levels had increased after they took the rounds of probiotics. Higher levels of vitamin E were linked with low vomiting scores. “This research provides key insights about the impact of gut microbes on gastrointestinal function during pregnancy. Our gut microbiota explains why we are what we eat, and why bacteria-generated metabolites and products have a huge impact on our health,” said Wan. “They affect the gastrointestinal tract as well as skin health and neurological function.”
While the findings they came up with are interesting, the researchers had cautionary advice. They couldn’t come up with an extreme solid conclusion because of the small sample size they had. Further studies need to be made to fully confirm the benefits of the probiotics. It is with hope that this can happen in the future.
“Our previous work showed the benefits of probiotics in preventing liver inflammation. The current study might be one of the first to show the benefits of probiotics in pregnancy,” explained Wan. “It would be interesting and important to further test whether probiotics can reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients.”