Probiotics For Improved Digestive Health
by ARIS ANTONIOU
We have all heard how good health starts from within. Organic food and a balanced diet is a good starting point to well being. But sometimes illness can disturb our fragile internal balance. This is when probiotics can help restore digestive health and health in general.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live strains of bacteria that can be found in fermented foods, yoghurts, yoghurt drinks or are available as supplements and when included in the diet, they can aid digestive health. There are many different strains of these beneficial bacteria that can establish themselves in the gut and restore the balance between good and bad bugs.
When To Take Probiotics
Whilst there is little evidence to suggest that probiotics can help treat serious conditions like Crohn’s disease, they have however been found to be more useful in treating minor illnesses such as diarrhoea caused by antibiotic use, IBS, common stomach bugs and lactose intolerance.
It is advisable to take a probiotic supplement when taking antibiotics, to help lessen the side effects of these drugs. Antibiotics are life savers but they kill good and bad bacteria alike, therefore the good bacteria need replacing. A multi-strain supplement is best when taking antibiotics and should be taken a few hours apart from the medication.
If you are considering travelling afar you may want to take probiotics with you. Many people fall ill when they encounter unfamiliar environments and food, these supplements can help keep your gut flora in balance.
How To Choose A Supplement
Before you start a course of probiotics, make sure they will not interact with any medication you are taking. If you are pregnant, then seek advice from a healthcare professional before taking supplements. Secondly, probiotics do cause side effects such as bloating and increased intestinal gas and therefore are not suitable for everyone. If you think such symptoms will cause you serious problems then avoid probiotics, or start off on a very low dose. If you are not seriously ill then these side effects are temporary and quickly disappear. Thirdly, make sure you buy a supplement from an established manufacturer to guarantee the quality of the product and the potency of the strain. Probiotics come as single strain or multi-strain capsules and powders and have higher concentrations of bacteria than yoghurt.
Which Bacterial Strain Should You Buy?
Certain health complaints respond better to different strains of beneficial bacteria. The most common probiotic, Lactobacillus Acidophilus is a bacterium that is found in the intestines. This strain is probably the most scientifically tested and the most popular of them all and is taken by millions as a supplement. Lactobacillus Acidophilus produces lactic acid, it does so by producing an enzyme called lactase which breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk. Therefore it can be useful in treating the symptoms of lactose intolerance which include diarrhoea, flatulence and stomach cramps.
Other Uses For Lactobacillus Acidophilus
This strain has also shown promise in treating AAD, antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. Antibiotics do not only kill bad bugs, they also destroy good bacteria too. This can cause digestive problems in individuals, particularly those taking high doses of antibiotics over a long period of time. Symptoms include nausea, stomach cramps and of course, diarrhoea. L Acidophilus inhibits the growth of bad bacteria and helps repopulate the good bacteria that may have been wiped out by antibiotics. This eventually brings balance back to the digestive system.
What About Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
IBS is one of the most common digestive disorders. It is a lifelong condition with no known cure. Therefore treatment is focused on lessening the impact the symptoms have on the individual. These are numerous and mainly consist of nausea, stomach pain, cramps, heartburn, frequent bowel movements and bloating. It is not known what causes IBS but it is thought that certain gut infections can trigger this condition as well as stress and food allergies. These cause the colon to become hypersensitive, disturbing the slow rhythmic muscle movements of the bowel and replacing them with muscle spasms instead. Studies show that taking L Acidophilus alone can reduce some of the symptoms of IBS in some sufferers.
Other Useful Strains
Bifidobacterium Longum is one of thirty-two species of bacteria that belongs to the Bifidobacterium family. It is one of the most abundant in the human body and is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, it is present in breast milk and colonizes the gut of infants. It can survive the harsh environment of the stomach allowing it to thrive in the intestines. Like other strains, B Longum aids digestion and helps inhibit bad bacteria such as Helicobacter Pylori, the bug behind most stomach ulcers and E-coli which can cause serious illness. This strain can also help produce B vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, B6 and vitamin K.
Streptococcus Thermophilus is used in the manufacture of cheese and yoghurt, it has been shown to inhibit C Difficile a bacterium that can cause serious illness in the elderly and infirm. This infection has been known to spread through hospital wards. Streptococcus T can also lower cholesterol levels but also increase the level of good blood fats.
Research has discovered that probiotics can aid digestion, prevent side effects from antibiotic use and help in the treatment of certain health conditions. They also keep harmful bacteria in check and help produce vital vitamins.
But what does the future hold for probiotics and probiotic research? The latest discoveries suggest that these little wonders can help in the treatment of depression. Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract, it is a neurotransmitter and is thought to contribute to feelings of well-being and calmness. It can also aid sleep as serotonin is synthesized into melatonin which is known as the sleep hormone, by the pineal gland. If your gut flora is not in balance then this can affect your serotonin levels which can have a knock-on effect on mood and sleep. The more we learn about these natural wonders, the more we can unlock the benefits they have on digestive health and our health in general.