This months feature in corporation with The Body Store is about the benefits of a new range of Probiotics. As always, if you have any existing health problems, please speak with your medical practitioner before taking any herbal remedies.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are good bacteria or beneficial bacteria and are a natural bacteria that live, eat and reproduce in our bodies and in-turn their metabolic activity supports our own health in multiple ways. In fact, we literally could not live without them.
The bacteria inside us forms a complex community that isn’t fully understood as yet. It is increasingly obvious that our gut bacteria are very individual. There are hundreds of species including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium lactis.
What are the benefits of probiotics?
They defend us against harmful bacteria and other organisms and support our digestion and absorption of good bacteria to ensure our immune system functions well.
Probiotics balance our immune response so we are not inflamed or allergic to foods we eat, they help us to excrete substances such as cholesterol or hormones by supporting our metabolism and cardiovascular health and our nervous system including mood.
Primarily, and perhaps most obviously, they defend us against bad bacteria and support our digestion. They crowd out any bad bugs we can get exposed to in foods (for example through food poisoning, or when we go travelling) and even produce their own antibiotics to keep them in check. In doing so they create a state of balance that promotes good digestive health. Imbalanced gut bacteria may lead to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhoea and painful gut infections like gastroenteritis.
One major cause of imbalanced bacteria or ‘dysbiosis’ is use of antibiotics. Intended to kill bacteria when we have an infection, they act like disinfectants, killing the good bacteria too. So we lose our natural defence against the pathogenic bacteria and that may allow them to take over. The toxins that the bad bacteria produce then create the symptoms we experience such as pain, bloating or diarrhoea.
We can help to restore the balance with probiotics. They will reduce gut symptoms and help to reduce the chance of the bad bugs becoming resistant to the antibiotic used. Probiotics have been shown to improve a range of symptoms in conditions like IBS, reducing pain, bloating and normalising bowel habits.
Supporting Digestion
Probiotics also help us to digest and absorb our food properly. Just like when we use bacteria to produce foods like yoghurt or cheese, they are very metabolically active, producing enzymes to help break down proteins such as gluten, and, of course, lactose from milk, which they love to digest and turn to lactic acid. They ferment the foods in the bowel, feeding off the indigestible, prebiotic fibres, helping to keep the bowel moving and preventing constipation. They also create a lot of useful substances as part of their metabolism, such as B vitamins, including folic acid, and helpful acids like butyric acid and short chain fatty acids that help fuel gut cells and keep them healthy. So probiotics are great for supporting poor digestion, such as gluten or lactose intolerance, and helping to keep our digestive tracts regular and healthy.
Supporting Immunity
Probiotics also help to keep the immune system active. Most of the immune system is located in our gut as it’s the first point of contact for many invaders. The immune system here samples the environment and learns about it. In fact, good gut bacteria is essential in new born babies to program the immune system correctly to respond to its environment, learning what microbes or molecules are dangerous and need to be neutralised and which ones need to be ignored and tolerated. When this doesn’t develop very well or if we change it due to food poisoning or use of antibiotics, then we may have reduced immune function and not deal with infections as effectively. So we get more infections and struggle to shake them off. The gut bacteria help to keep the immune system on a low-level alert and therefore support its function.
Several studies have shown that certain probiotic bacteria help to prevent or reduce the effects of coughs and colds in children and adults.