Probiotic comes from the Greek word ‘pro’ meaning ‘promoting’ and ‘biotic’ meaning ‘life’, they are bacteria and yeasts living within our bodies playing a vital role in keeping us healthy and make up our microbiome. Bacteria and yeasts live within our gut, mouth, skin, nose, throat, lungs and urogenital tract. Trillions of the organisms from hundreds and hundreds of different species all contribute to us being healthy and well. Each one of us has their own varied microbiome that has been influenced by diet, lifestyle, ancestry, health history, medication taken and environment. These microbes are essential for many biological processes and scientific studies are linking them to our different body systems and the influence on our weight and body composition, mental and cognitive health, immune system, genetic expression and risk of numerous diseases.
Did You Know?
Probiotics were first scientifically recognised in the 1800’s. The ability to alter the microbiome was brought to attention by Elie Metchnikoff in the mid-20th century who concluded the health and old age of rural Bulgarian’s was due to the consumption of sour milk containing ‘good’ bacteria, and that by manipulating our microbiome our health can be enhanced.
Functions of the Microbiome
- Break down and digest food
- Enhance absorption of nutrients
- Immune system regulation
- Weight regulation
- Produce vitamins B and K
- Produce important fatty acids
- Contribute to our mood and brain function
- Effect our sleep patterns
- Support skin and intimate health
- Help in the prevention of unwanted or ’bad’ bacteria e.g. candida albicans becoming out of balance
The vast array of functions that have an impact on our health cannot be underestimated. Our immune systems for example are significantly influenced by our microbiome. 80% of both innate and adaptive immune responses are effected by our good bacteria and there are more immune cells within our intestines than the entire rest of our bodies. Microbiome dysfunction can lead to increased risk and severity of infection as well as infections reoccurring. Additionally our immune health is crucial in the prevention of conditions such as asthma, eczema and autoimmune diseases.
Depression is another area strongly linked to gut dysbiosis again leading to a whole host of conditions. This occurs due to the imbalanced gut flora resulting in an inflamed intestine. This causes cytokines; proteins that regulate and mediate inflammation to be released into the blood stream where they can enter the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier; this inflammation can then be displayed as depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
What Effects the Microbiome?
When the microbiome is depleted and not working at its optimal our health may be compromised. This can be down to various different factors:
- Being born by Caesarean section. Not passing down the vaginal tract means missing out on inheriting a vast amount of your mothers established microbiome.
- Being bottle-fed. Studies have shown microflora of babies been bottle-fed have a disrupted microbiome. This could be due to missing out on vital components of breast milk such as lysozyme and lactoferrin.
- Taking antibiotics can have a profound effect on the health of the microbiome and potentially lasting effects of dysbiosis
- Environmental pollutants, pesticides and chemicals
- Chlorinated water
- Diet lacking in pre and probiotic foods
- Genetically Modified and Engineered foods
- Proton Pump Inhibitors e.g. stomach acid medication
Looking After Your Microbiome
With such an influence on so many aspects of health it is important to do what we can to support a healthy, balanced microbiome. The fast paced, chemical and environmentally polluted modern world we live in is constantly what we are interacting with so what can you do to support your gut and stay healthy?
- Switch to filtered water
- Eat Organic where possible
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; natural prebiotics that feed our ‘good’ bacteria and help them to flourish
- Eat fermented foods regularly such as live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, tempeh and miso
- Reduce consumption of refined sugary foods and drinks; these could be feeding unwanted bacteria
A recent study on thousands of human stool samples from different countries, diets and lifestyles has discovered the health of the gut is greatly influenced by two factors;
- Plant foods consumed; 30 or more a week gives the most diversity to the bacteria. 10 or less per week was linked to a greater chance of a vast array of diseases and anti-biotic resistance.
- Antibiotic use; taking antibiotics within a year caused a less diverse gut bacteria, disease link and anti-biotic resistance. There was even evidence of those who ate industrially farmed meat fed antibiotics to have similar effect on gut health.
One important factor was it did not seem to alter the health of the bacteria being a meat eater, vegetarian or a vegan. The main importance was the amount of plant based foods eaten as long as the meat was grass-fed organic.
Strains of Bacteria
Choosing the right strains of bacteria can be difficult with such a wide range. Each strain is slightly different in its role within the body, here is a VERY small insight to a few of the popular ones.
Lactobacillus Acidophilus; predominant in the upper intestinal tract. It helps reduce levels of harmful bacteria and yeasts, assists in the production of B vitamins and produces the enzyme lactase which breaks down milk sugars.
Lactobacillus Rhamnosus; well researched with over 200 clinical trials which have shown it to have a positive effect inhibiting vaginal and urinary tract infections, preventing rotoviral or Clostrididium difficlie induced diarrhoea, enhancing immune health and protecting the gut wall.
Lactobacillus Salivarious; supports the body in reducing the activity of harmful bacteria such as H Pylori and salmonella. It also assists in the breakdown of undigested protein.
Lactobacillus Plantarum; protects the colon from unwanted bacteria preventing them from being able to pass through into the blood stream and constantly fighting off pathogens.
Bifidobacterium Bifidum; plays a role in producing B Vitamins and improving immune response. It has a role in reducing inflammation in the intestine and can be supportive where there is digestive disturbance.
Bifidobacterium Longum; helps keep the pH level in the intestines low by producing lactic acid and therefore harmful bacteria struggle to survive. It also is another of the probiotics that make B vitamins.
Choosing a Probiotic
Before thinking of purchasing a probiotic try eating a diet free of processed foods, sugars and preservatives and eat ‘real’ food. This will support your good bacteria and enable it to grow.
If you are wanting a probiotic important considerations include:
- Acid-resistant; so you know the bacteria is not going to be killed off by stomach acid
- The live probiotics in the product is guaranteed until the expiry date
- Strain specific e.g. Lactobacillus DDS-1
- Includes well researched strain
A few of our favourite probiotics include:
- Optibac for everyday
- Optibac for every day, extra strength
- Quest Acidophilus Plus
- Natures Aid Pro-daily
- Natures Aid Pro-30 max
There are trillions more strains many still being discovered, however as research in the area increases changes to your microbiome can start a change in the body’s cellular activities resulting in disease or a contributing factor.
If you feel your gut has got out of balance due to lifestyle, antibiotic use, stress, travel or diet high in sugar. Have digestive symptoms such as constipation, IBS, acid reflux, heart burn or indigestion then a probiotic supplement may be of benefit. Additionally as research suggests an imbalance in gut flora can have far more wider influence on health from obesity and diabetes to autism and eczema. So if you have issues with weight, blood sugar, mood, skin, immune or intimate health you may also benefit from supplementing with a probiotic.