Our gut contains 100-300 trillion bacteria, compared to just 10 trillion cells in our whole body that make us up! These bacteria are important for keeping us healthy and can be easily knocked out of balance for reasons like ageing, taking antibiotics, bowel disease and food poisoning.
Probiotics are food products or supplements that contain ‘good’ bacteria that benefit our health by improving the balance of our gut bacteria. Our bodies are designed to stop harmful bacteria entering our body, which is why our stomachs are very acidic, to kill bacteria. Therefore, probiotics are designed to survive the acidic stomach conditions so they can reach our gut to balance the good bacteria.
They do this by competing with harmful bacteria for space and food, fighting them out of our gut. Probiotics also stimulate our immune system, shortening the presence of cold symptoms and improving response to vaccines. They also help us digest fibre, keeping the gut lining healthy. Additionally, probiotics help produce a number of vitamins and increase the digestibility of nutrients including calcium, iron, zinc, fats and carbohydrates.
Taking antibiotics – if you’re on antibiotics, taking probiotics can prevent diarrhoea by keeping the gut bacteria balanced. This also applies to when you travel abroad and studies have shown that taking probiotics reduces the chance of suffering from traveller’s diarrhoea. Probiotic milk containing Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus bulgaricus may also prevent people from getting C-diff (the gut superbug triggered by taking antibiotics).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – 1 in 10 adults in the UK have IBS with symptoms involving severe diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain. Research has shown that probiotics reduce symptoms, in particularly bloating although they don’t work for everybody.
In summary, probiotics are a great way to keep your gut bacteria in balance and may also help prevent or reduce symptoms for people suffering from certain conditions e.g. traveller’s diarrhoea or IBS. Studies have also shown that probiotics are great for infant and women’s immunity and balancing pH.