Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms known to be effective at keeping your gut environment healthy. Commonly found in fermented foods with active live cultures, like yogurt and sauerkraut, as well as in supplements, probiotics may help detox the body by removing heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, chromium and mercury.
This detox ability is supported by a mini-review in the September Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
“Beneficial bacteria are indeed capable of degrading pesticides and sequestering toxic chemicals,” says study coauthor Gregor Reid of the Lawson Health Research Institute, London, Ontario.
Up to 40 to 60 percent of metals ingested by humans do not breach the intestinal barrier. The microbiota living in the digestive tract help prevent their entry, says study coauthor Jeremy Burton. Lactobacillus, a probiotic living in the human mouth and gut, has the ability to bind and detoxify some of these substances.
That raises the possibility of applying them to other foods to sweep harmful compounds from the gut and even decontaminating environmental sites.
“If the metal is trapped in or on a bacterial cell, it can pass harmlessly from the body via feces,” Burton explains.
“As large parts of the world, including Africa’s Lake Victoria [the world's second largest freshwater lake by surface area], are contaminated by a host of toxic compounds, we thought it would be worth seeing if lactobacilli could counter the toxins,” says Reid.