We are full of bacteria, our bodies depend on them for survival and to thrive. Our gut health is dependant on the quality and diversity of our food choices. After all it is estimated that 70% of the immune system is located in the gut.
Our gut environment includes both good and ‘bad’ bacteria and ideally the balance is tipped in favour of the good guys or the beneficial bacteria that are needed to promote a healthy immune, digestive, cardiovascular and nervous system (mental health¹) to name just a few body systems.
In fact recent studies have also focused on the beneficial use of probiotics in treating skin and oral diseases whilst acknowledging further research is required. ²
Good bacteria in our gut are nourished by foods such as fruit & vegetables (more veg than fruit please), pulses, tolerated wholegrains³. Basically fibre from these foods – and it’s mainly the plant foods – helps to feed the beneficial bacteria thereby keeping the more harmful bacteria in check.
Bad bacteria – the term dysbiosis is used to describe a state in the gut where the bad bacteria are dominant – are fed by junk, over processed, high fat foods and a typical Western style diet with a high trans fat, low fibre, high sugar intake can alter this gut balance tipping it away from its ideal good bacteria status.
Foods that contain a natural probiotic source are fermented foods such as live-cultured natural yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi (a staple in Korea), other fermented vegetables, good quality apple cider vinegar. Many of these can be homemade but the health-food and chilled aisles of several supermarkets along with health food stores now sell these food items as more and more natural food businesses are launching and diversifying to literally feed this growing awareness of the importance of good gut health.
If supplementation with probiotics is required – and I do supplement especially before and during time spent abroad on holidays – then a well researched and quality probiotic is ideal as they have to survive the high acidity of the stomach in order to do their job well.
Who are probiotics for?
Things like persistent stress, antibiotics, antacids and other medication, poor diet can all lead to an imbalance in the good/bad bacteria in our digestive system ie our gut microbiome.
From all my knowledge and reading as well as recent research on this subject it appears those –
- with a compromised gut including digestive difficulties of diarrhoea, constipation, excess gas, bloating, belching, indigestion etc
- after a course or courses of antibiotics
- to help prevent travellers diarrhoea
- lactose intolerance 4
may benefit from taking a probiotic supplement if it’s not feasible enough to get it via food.
Be careful however if you have a weakened immune system and always check with your medical practitioner.
Personally, I take probiotics to keep my immune system healthy and to help with any digestive system niggles that we often experience especially during periods of stress, or for travelling abroad to support any problematic challenges due to a changed climate and diet. I find for me that some dairy (cows milk) products can cause some unpleasant respiratory effects and try to avoid those that I feel don’t agree with me (that’s another blog post possibly..) as much as is reasonable so taking probiotics seems to help for the most part. I usually take them with breakfast or last thing at night as that is the time the stomach is less acidic.
My probiotic of choice currently is the OptiBac ‘For Daily Immunity with Vitamin C’ and I like having an antioxidant such as Vitamin C included (I have also used BioKult for travelling in the past as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated either and is reasonably priced like the OptiBac). OptiBac also do a range for travel as it contains the much researched strain Saccharomyces boulardii. See link to website below.
I recently tried out a sample of the excelllent BioCare Acidophilus probiotic however it is a bit more expensive and requires refrigeration.
I am shortly going to try the NutriAdvanced UltraProbioplex capsules.
I have heard anecdotally that Alflorex works for a lot of people with IBS (developed by the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre based at University College Cork) , does not need to be refrigerated but is only available over the counter in pharmacies.
There is excellent information on probiotics as well as all the Frequently Asked Questions you could think of on the Optibac and the Nutri Advanced websites backed up by research study references and articles.
The below article “Eat a Rainbow – for gut’s sake” on the website Alliance for Natural Health makes some really interesting points about our gut microbiome and eating to nurture it, including mention of prebiotics which feed the good gut bacteria.