Starting from today, a daily probiotic can help to prepare your stomach for the destruction of its beneficial gut flora that is likely to follow the overindulgence many associate with the Christmas period.
Healthy gut flora is essential for good digestion, but the problem is that too much sugar and alcohol combined with too little sleep reduce both the diversity and amount of bacteria in our gut at this time of year.
In addition to this the less healthy bacteria thrive on the sorts of food and drinks we like to consume at Christmas.
The good news is that the imbalance can be offset to some extent by taking a probiotic supplement.
What are probiotics
Probiotics are strains of beneficial bacteria that are commonly supplemented to support activity that takes place in the gut. Our guts are already teeming with more than one billion bacteria which play a role in the manufacture of substances like neurotransmitters (including serotonin), enzymes and vitamins (especially Bs and K) and other essential nutrients including important amino acid and short-chain fatty acids.
Approximately 70% of the body’s defences are in the gut, which is constantly under attack from microbes that enter our system via food and drink. The various species of “good” bacteria are your body’s first line of defence and thus vital to a healthy body.
Differences between probiotics and prebiotics
Prebiotics are like a fertiliser for the beneficial bacteria while the probiotics are the strains of beneficial bacteria themselves. Prebiotics can be in the form of certain foods - asparagus and leek are an especially good source.
The benefits of supplemental probiotics
The impact of a healthy gut is seen throughout the body and should be thought of us as a restoration project of your internal systems - essentially what is does it hold the key to health.
The best ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet
Ideally we would all be naturally consuming lots and lots of raw fresh plant-based food on a daily basis however this isn't practical advice to follow for everyone. There are however good food sources that can be easily incorporated into your existing diet.
Dairy products typically have the most probiotics - in the case of yoghurt this only applies to those labelled as containing “live and active cultures” though. And make sure that your choice is low in sugar - even 'healthy' yoghurt's can contain very high levels of sugar so beware. Kefir, a fermented milk drink is a good one to try, as is a cultured coconut based drink.
Probiotics are also found in pickled and fermented foods so you could give sauerkraut a go - despite it's somewhat unappealing name it's actually delicious! Kimchi (which is a spicy condiment originating from Korea) is a great natural source of probiotics as are tempeh and miso.
It's important to note that live organisms can have a limited shelf life, so probiotics should be used before their expiration dates to maximise the potential benefits.
With the above in mind, it’s easy to understand why supplements are often thought of as the most practical choice - easy and convenient!
What to look for when choosing a probiotic
The most important thing is the potency of the supplement. Labels should ALWAYS specify the strain and the number of live organisms in a single dose - you are looking for billions not millions.
How to maximise their efficacy
Its important to follow the instructions on proper dosage, frequency and storage as this is often specific to the supplement type and to get into a routine of taking the tablet at the same time each day also works well.
The main thing is to choose a supplement that contains a good level of beneficial bacteria and modify your diet to support your digestive health alongside - this is the only real way to get the most out of it. On your daily menu should be items that are low in sugar (including alcohol) or refined carbohydrates as sugar feeds the bad bacteria in the gut.
Taking probiotics alongside key lifestyle changes should result in improved symptoms of bloating and gas as well as more regular bowel movements. You may even see an improvement in your skin condition.
Probiotics could help you avoid the bloat this Christmas but the benefits could be long term if you keep them up!