Probiotic supplements and foods contain live, beneficial micro-organisms. Probiotics, when ingested properly, help to recolonize the digestive tract with friendly, beneficial bacteria.
Health benefits of Probiotics
Beneficial bacteria help your body to synthesize vitamins, absorb nutrients, keep pathogens at bay and interact with directly with your immune system for your overall health. Intestinal flora is thought to be critical to a vast and wide array of human health issues.
Some common conditions they treat are:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Infectious diarrhoea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites)
- Antibiotic-related diarrhoea
There is also some research to show they ease the symptoms of non-stomach-related problems. For example, some people say they have helped with:
- Skin conditions, like eczema
- Promote urinary and vaginal health
- Support your immune system, preventing allergies and colds
- Oral health
- Enhance the synthesis of B vitamins and improve calcium absorption
Where can I get Probiotics from?
For a tasty and easy way to optimize good bacteria, simply increase your intake of fermented foods. This is because they contain and deliver a wide variety of good bacteria to the gut. This is opposed to processed foods, which have the opposite effect. Miso, tempeh, kim chi, sauerkraut and kefir are great sources of probiotics.
What About Yoghurt?
Many people eat yoghurt because they have been told that it’s a good source of friendly bacteria. However, this is not necessarily true - the bacteria used to make most yoghurt are not the key beneficial bacteria. Some brands add a small amount of acidophilus just so they can say so on the label, this as well as the fact that a lot of the yoghurt you buy in the shops is pasteurized after it is made makes it difficult to make the right choice. Pasteurization is done to increase the shelf life, but in the process destroys all the benefits of the yoghurt so make sure the label says “live, active cultures.”
With much of the attention focused on probiotics, there is a little known complement to probiotics called prebiotics that play an important role in your digestion.
So, what are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that make their way through our digestive system and help good bacteria grow and flourish. Prebiotics keep beneficial bacteria healthy - prebiotics are not bacteria. They are specific nutrients, usually non-absorbable carbohydrates like fructans and oligosaccharides, which can be found naturally occurring in whole grains, fruits and legumes.
Health benefits of Prebiotics
- Increase in levels of good bacteria
- Reduction in levels of bad bacteria
- Increase in mineral absorption (for example, calcium)
- Control or prevention of occasional diarrhoea
- Relief from occasional constipation, particularly in the elderly
- Provision of up to 10% of daily energy requirements•Increase in bio-availability of minerals (for example, calcium and magnesium).
Natural sources of prebiotics include:
- Pure raw honey - this is an excellent source of prebiotics
- Fresh Dandelion Greens
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Prebiotic Supplements
Essentially, prebiotics are the fertiliser for productive bacterial growth, feeding probiotic bacteria and assisting in its growth.
Probiotics and Prebiotics work synergistically
It’s important to remember that both probiotics and prebiotics work together - in other words if you dose up on probiotic supplements, it won’t do your body much good if you continue to eat a diet devoid of fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods rich in inulin, fructans and oligosaccharides. Similarly, a diet rich in prebiotics will give your intestinal flora something to feed on, but it’s highly likely that your intestinal flora could do with a boost. This is the case if you've typically eaten a poor diet or taken antibiotics at some point.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.