The health benefits of probiotics explained
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Our lives have dramatically shifted in the last year – our living environment has needed to also incorporate our working environment and we might have adapted relationships with family and friends to accommodate this changing dynamic of socialisation. While many of us have acclimatised to this being the new normal, it could be worth looking to our beneficial gut bacteria for additional support for a variety of reasons that might surprise you.
Live bacteria supplements may help with supporting the immune system, digestion, mood, exercise recovery and general health, says Plaza, Bio-Kult’s nutritional advisor. (www.bio-kult.com)
Immunity is very much at the front of our minds at the moment and could be one way that live bacteria supplements could help.
Plaza explained: “A healthy immune system requires balance and control, for instance in distinguishing between foreign and self-cells. If the immune system is too low, we may be at risk of getting ill easily, however if our immune system is too sensitive we may react to substances that don’t actually cause us harm (such as pollen).
“The majority of our immune system is located in the gut, in fact approximately 70 percent of our immune cells are located here. Live bacteria supplements work with us through a variety of mechanisms to ensure that our immunity is balanced and controlled appropriately. These mechanisms include direct impact on potentially harmful microbes, taking up space on the gut lining, competing for nutrients, as well as creating an acidic environment, which is favourable to good gut health.
“A number of systematic reviews have found evidence that the average duration of respiratory illness episodes, the number of days of illness per person and the number of days absent from day care/work/school are significantly reduced with live bacteria supplementation compared with placebo.”
The change in our daily routines and the possibility of not being able to buy our usual shopping, may have changed our diets and therefore may have affected our digestion, which is where we breakdown and absorb nutrients.
“These nutrients not only provide us with the energy we need to survive, but also act as messengers, passing communications between different cells and organs of the body, allowing them to function optimally together,” said Plaza.
“ You could be eating the healthiest diet in the world, but if you’re not digesting your food and absorbing nutrients properly, you won’t gain the benefits. A variety of factors will determine whether we have adequate digestion, such as sufficient stomach acidity, how much we chew our food, the speed in which we eat, and the regularity of our bowel movements.
“Another way to support healthy digestion is to eat foods which are high in dietary fibre and resistant starches, this will not only keep our bowel movements regular, helping to eliminate toxins from the body, but will also feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts.”
Living through these changed times could also be posing a weight on our mental health and you may be experiencing low mood more frequently.
Our microbiome (the mix of bacterial species within our gut) could influence our mood through something called the gut-brain axis.
Plaza explained: “This is how the balance of bacteria in the gut may affect brain health and is an exciting and rapidly evolving area of research. It is a communication system between the gut and the brain, consisting of a number of pathways (neuronal, immune and hormonal), all of which may be influenced by our gut bacteria.
“The majority of signals (80 percent) originate from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve, compared to 20 percent of signals from the brain to the gut. The signals sent are influenced by the diversity and population of our gut bacteria, therefore if we keep our gut happy, it might promote a more positive outlook for our current situation.
“Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and may boost our mood through the hormone serotonin. Live bacteria supplementation has also been shown to increase vitamin D levels and to improve mood in a number of studies, so even if you are not getting out in the sun as much as you would like, beneficial bacteria can provide some support. Why not try live yeast supplement, Bio-Kult S. Boulardii (RRP £14.99, www.bio-kult.com) which alongside it’s live microorganisms, also contains vitamin D3.”
All round support
These difficult times have thrown up some new challenges, it could be forcing you to prioritise your spending, whilst at the same time, attempting to stay as healthy as possible.
Live bacteria could be a nice all-round option if you’re looking to maximise the nutrition of your diet, improve absorption of food, and promote immune health, mood and energy. For example, said Plaza:
- B vitamins are essential for energy16 so could help if we are feeling sluggish, whilst cooped up at home and missing a daily routine. Our gut bacteria synthesise a range of B vitamins for us.
- Live bacteria supplements support the gut lining, helping us to absorb nutrients from our food. Therefore even if you are consuming a diet a little different to what you are used to, you can still be sure you are absorbing the most benefit.
- Our immune cells have a surveillance system which monitors the environment of the gut. Maintaining a rich source of live bacteria might promote an appropriate response to invading microbes.
- The range of benefits that live bacteria provide, could make it easier if food choice is limited. We used to consume fermented foods as part of our daily lifestyles as a natural form of food preservation. As we consumed our fermented foods, the live bacteria would make the food more digestible, increase the acidity, and temper our immune systems (live bacteria is therefore classed as having a symbiotic relationship with us, as it benefits both parties). If sourcing traditionally fermented foods is trickier in this time, we are lucky enough to be able to choose between food and supplement and therefore obtain the benefits as conveniently as possible.
Finding a supplement with a great range of benefits can be tricky to choose. One that contains a variety of strains are thought to be particularly beneficial for all-round health, and have been found to be more advantageous in certain conditions.
Plaza recommended: “Bio-Kult Boosted is a unique formulation of 14 strains of live bacteria which may prove useful, not only for general health, but for all of the reasons discussed.
“Bio-Kult Boosted also contains vitamin B12 which contributes to normal functioning of the immune system. If we do require the additional support from live bacteria, or find ourselves having to take antibiotics, this is a great option.”
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