The supplements populate the gut with 'good' bacteria, and it's yet another example of the way the gut regulates our health. The discovery is a "paradigm shift" in the way we protect our bones, say the researchers.
Most women over the age of 80 suffer from osteoporosis, or brittleness of the bones, which means that the slightest fall can cause a fracture. Drugs on the market can treat osteoporosis to some extent, but they are often prescribed only after bone loss is detected.
But women who take a probiotic for at least a year have half the bone loss of similar women who don't take the supplement, researchers from Gothenburg University in Sweden have discovered.
They tested a powdered probiotic on 90 women with an average age of 76, half of whom were given the active version and the rest had a dummy or placebo powder. After a year, CT scans that measured bone health in the lower legs of all the women discovered that those taking the probiotic had half the bone loss of those given the placebo.
None of the women taking the probiotic suffered any side effects or reactions.
It's the first time that the effects of probiotics on human bone health have been tested, the researchers say. Up to now, studies have been restricted to laboratory mice.
The probiotics used in the test contained Lactobacillus reuteri 6475, a bacterium that has many health benefits.