You are probably aware that probiotics are good for you. You will have heard the terms “friendly” and “beneficial bacteria” and that they are good for your digestive tract, but do you really know why these tiny organisms are so beneficial?
It’s an interesting concept that we have billions of bacteria residing in our digestive tract that are in synergy with our own bodies and working hard to keep us healthy and in tip-top condition. In fact, bacteria have been with us throughout our evolution and have evolved with us. The mitochondria inside our cells, the organelle responsible for our energy production, was once a bacteria that became engulfed by a primitive amoeba, and eventually became part of the animal cell itself. We have been living and evolving with bacteria from day dot.
Probiotics are not only crucial for keeping the “bad guys” at bay, such as Candida albicans and other potentially pathogenic organisms, they are important in the fight against allergies, eczema and immune related disorders among many other health concerns. Let’s have a closer look at what they actually do for us.
Probiotics keep the digestive tract healthy. They help break down our food, aid nutrient absorption and provide butyric acid, which acts as fuel for the cells of the digestive lining. Lack of friendly bacteria in the intestines contributes to constipation, bloating and flatulence and other digestive disturbances, such as gut permeability. The probiotics themselves produce B vitamins and vitamin K that your body uses. Their presence in the intestines creates an environment that is not conducive to the survival of other not-so-beneficial organisms. It is very common after antibiotic therapy for the yeast, Candida albicans, to proliferate and cause all manner of problems, such as fungal skin infections and thrush.
Probiotics have an ability to boost immune function due to their presence in an area of the small intestines called the Peyer’s Patch. This area can be considered the “school of the white blood cells”, where white blood cells start to differentiate. There are a large population of probiotics present in this area and it has been suggested that they play a role in helping these important immune cells to recognise the difference between good and bad organisms.
The friendly bacteria also boost immune function by preventing “leaky gut syndrome”. If undigested food or toxins from the stool leak through the intestinal wall, their presence in the bloodstream sets up an immune response leading to allergies, food intolerances and other immune related issues.
Probiotics in the intestines help to neutralize spent hormones after they have done their jobs in the body, making them ready to be effectively excreted via the bowel. Low friendly bacteria status not only contributes to constipation but also raises the chance of toxic versions of hormones being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. When this happens with oestrogen for example, oestrogen dominant conditions may arise, such as fibroids, endometriosis, and other female hormonal disorders. Many cancers are hormonally related, such as prostate and breast cancer, whereby the metabolism of these hormones has become imbalanced.
Enemies of our friendly bacteria
The following deplete our intestinal friends:
- Many pharmaceutical medicines
- Excess alcohol
- Refined sugar
- Poor diet
- Excess caffeine
- Artificial sweeteners
- Trans fats and processed foods
Supplementation to the rescue
It’s often necessary to supplement with a quality probiotic to top-up the body’s levels. Probiotic literally means pro-life, whereas antibiotic means anti-life. Antibiotics, even though sometimes necessary for killing off harmful bacterial infections, kill of our beneficial bacteria too. It is crucial that a quality, high dose supplement is taken following a course of antibiotics.
The most common types of bacteria used in supplements are Lactobacillus Acidophilus , Bifidobacterium Bifidum and Bifidobacterium Longum. Babies and small children may need Bifido Infantis additionally when supplementing.
Not all supplements are the same
You will find numerous brands of supplements on the market, however not all of them are effective. Buy only from recommended companies who can provide proof of their formulas’ efficacy, or get a recommendation from a naturopath or nutritionist. Generally, probiotics should be encased in a capsule that is designed to break down in the intestines, they should be kept cool and dry and the specific strains and number of organisms per capsule should be stated on the label.
The ecosystem within
Don’t rely on yogurt drinks like “Yakult” to provide a decent dose of probiotics. They are loaded with sugar and suspended in non-organic, low quality dairy, which will also be loaded with antibiotics! Organic, live, natural yogurt and other fermented foods will provide you with a maintenance dose of friendly bacteria if you haven’t had antibiotics. Try kefir, kombucha or rejuvelac as a regular part of your diet. They are fermented drinks with a high probiotic content.
The bacterial balancing act
Probiotics love fibre, so eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, oats, whole grains and natural foods, whilst the unfriendly bacteria thrive on sugar and processed foods, which are to be avoided.
Keeping your internal ecosystem in balance will support many areas of your health, not just the digestive system, yet if your digestion is disturbed it is likely that you need probiotic support. Start looking at ways you can support your body and listen to its messages, and like all things in life, strive to maintain the balance.
Article by Jo Rowkins dipNT MBANT, nutritionist, founder of awakening health & executive health adviser at The Spa Resorts.