Probiotics, the chances are you’ve heard of them. Whether it’s on TV, labelled on food you buy or at your local health food shop probiotics have been gaining more attention over the last few years and for good reason.
As humans we contain many different types of bacteria that not only live in us but on us as well. You may have heard of the term the ‘gut microbiota’. The gut microbiota is a name used for all of the complex different types of bacteria colonising our digestive system. These billions of bacteria that reside within us are now known for having a big role to play in the homeostasis of many different functions in our body. From the immune system to digestive health, these little microbes can have a positive effect on our health and wellbeing. Our microbiota is formed during infancy and can be affected by many different factors. Some of these include antibiotic use as a child and whether or not you had a natural birth.
Here are some examples of what the gut microbiota has been associated with:
Mood disorders – Recent research suggests how there is a relationship between our gut and our brain, even calling our gut microbes a ‘second brain’. Meaning our gut microbiota could be a contributing factor to the development of mood related disorders. Also specific types of bacteria have been associated with positive changes in mood.
Immune system – Did you know that 70% of your immune system is in your gut? Our gut bacteria can help modulate the immune system.
Allergies – Evidence suggest that early life exposure to a diverse range of microbes may have a protective affect against asthma and allergies.
Digestive health – Many digestive complaints and disorders are linked to our gut micribiota. Many different bacteria strains have shown to have positive effects on diarrhoea, Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD).
What affects our gut microbiota?
- Poor diet e.g. high sugar consumption (especially artificial sweeteners) and alcohol
- Certain medications with the most well known one being antibiotics
So, you may be wondering how probiotics come into all of this? Well, probiotics are live beneficial bacteria and yeasts which are found in certain foods; drinks and supplements, which have been shown to increase good bacteria and may restore balance in your gut. Probiotics in supplement form may often be used for certain conditions or after a course of antibiotics. Foods and drinks which are said to contain probiotics are miso, kefir (fermented milk drink), kombucha, pickled vegetables, fermented vegetables such as saurkrawt and kimchi, and perhaps the most popularly known – live yogurt. Fermented foods have now become very popular in the mainstream, but they have been eaten by many different cultures across the world for thousands of years. They were also used as a way to preserve food before refrigeration. Although, probiotic foods are a great way to keep our gut happy, eating a varied diet including many different types of fruit, vegetables, fibre and good fats is equally as essential for gut health too. It is also worth mentioning that prebiotics are also good to consume too. Prebiotics are essentially food for the good bacteria we already have in our gut in the form of carbohydrate or fermentable dietary fibre. A good source of them is chicory, onions, garlic, leek, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and bananas.
Thursby E and Juge N (2017) ‘Introduction to the human gut microbiota’ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433529/