At this time of year anything we can do to help our immune system such as taking probiotics goes a long way to keep us in good health, especially when our bodies are busy fighting off the colds and viruses that are virulent during winter.
As you probably know from reading previous articles I have written that I suffer from COPD, and through this I frequently have to take antibiotics to make sure that no further damage is done to my lungs when I contract colds and chest infections.
I am absolutely against taking antibiotics regularly, but my GP says that this is the lesser of the two evils.
Taking antibiotics kills some of the good bacteria in the gut along with whatever reason you are taking the medication for. So taking prebiotics helps to speed up my body's natural process of producing bacterium and immunity to fight against other viruses.
Did you know that 70 per cent of our immune system is found in our gut, and that our gut is home to over 400 different strains of bacteria.
The bacteria in the gut, which colonises soon after birth from ingested milk, helps to prevent dangerous bacteria such as e.coli from entering and colonising the body.
The guts 'eco-system' of bacteria is a very delicate balance, and can easily be tipped into turmoil by bugs causing diarrhoea and sickness from contaminated or raw foods.
Of course eating a varied diet of good food gives us good health and keeps our immune systems in check, but by adding a probiotic drink or yoghurt can greatly increase the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
As a family we have been taking probiotics for the past couple of years, topping up on the friendly bacteria, and we are all agreed that they have had a good effect on our health and scientists now agree that they do in fact work and help.
I love yoghurt so much that one whole shelf in the refrigerator is always full of them, although for the rest of the family it always used to be 'children, eat your yoghurt to keep your mum happy'!
I started buying probiotic drinks to begin with, which were not received well at all, but as soon as the yoghurt version was available they became a hit, now as soon as I put them I the fridge they are gone!
There are many products available and these can have different names or jargon on them, either Probiotics, prebiotics, bifidobacillus, lactobacillus and omega 3 & 6: –
Probiotics, the most common, living bacteria that top up the normal bacterial found in the gut.
Prebiotics – soluble food that fuels the bacteria in the gut.
Bifidobacillus bacteria thrive in an oxygen-depleted environment.
Lactobacillus bacteria found naturally in milk, is reproduced in the lab from cultured natural sources.
Omega 3 & 6 are polyunsaturated fatty acids vital for growth and cell development and found naturally in foods such as oily fish and kiwi fruit.
By using a probiotic can only help to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut, some products have more than one of the above, so it is always advisable to check the label.
People with an unhealthy gut often suffer from symptoms of pain, bloating, trapped wind or gastric problems, could benefit and alleviate some of the problems by using probiotics.
The friendly bacteria in the yoghurts and drinks work by competing for space with harmful bacteria – the good bugs swamping the bad, stimulating the immune system, sending white blood cells and immunoglobin or antibodies to any area needed to prevent harmful
bacteria entering the bloodstream.
A new study published this week confirmed that the benefits of friendly probiotics have a clear effect on the body.
Not only do they significantly change the make-up of gut bacteria that is involved in immune health, but also improve the break down of fat, fibre and protein and the metabolism of vitamins.
Probiotic bacteria also helps to stop the gut absorbing fat, instead being passed out through the body naturally rather than storing it.
These bacteria could be very beneficial for the elderly and also undernourished people, in these instances it is being found to help ward off colds and sore throats.
Research is being carried out to find out whether they are effective in helping protect children against allergies and also with ulcers in the colon – ulcerative colitis.
There is new evidence that a probiotic could be the key in combating the super bug C.difficile. Sufferers of C. diff normally have a recurrence after about 6 weeks as the bacteria re-grows, but bifidobacillus has shown to inhibit this action, so that relapse is unlikely in the patient, so research is ongoing with this.
There are two groups that should definitely avoid the use of probiotics – newborn, where bacteria has not been fully colonised naturally, and others whose immune system has been improvised through chemotherapy or blood poisoning. You can always check with your local health advisor to make sure there are no problems taking them.
Using probiotics is no substitute for eating a healthy diet and is not a quick fix, as always 'good food good health' should be your regime- make it a way of life and by adding a friendly bacteria can only help your body in its tireless task of keeping us at peak condition.
Sandra & Ted