Pro-biotics. Just a load of bugs?
Do you buy those products that are advertised as containing ‘friendly bacteria’, that ‘help bloating’ and generally are touted as being a health food? Are they working? Are they worth it? The pro-biotic market is quite noisy. Just think about Yakult, Activia yoghurt, Actimel there is even a Galaxy pro-biotic drink product! Just what is it all about?
What are pro-biotics?
Pro-biotics are the friendly bacteria that we want to encourage to live in our digestive system. Pro-biotic means ‘pro-life’ so they are really useful. Their importance is constantly being researched and evaluated as more and more conditions are being discovered to be a cause of an imbalance of these bacteria.
Why do we need them?
I am sure you know that we are made up more of bacteria and bugs than we are of cells. Infact I heard at a conference just two weeks ago that we are 90% bugs! We are just a mere shell of cells by comparison! The relationship between the bugs (beneficial flora) and us is completely symbiotic. We need each other. These mini bugs live all over and in us and when the balance is disrupted we get ill and if we were ever completely sterilised from them, we would almost certainly not thrive.
The largest numbers of micro-flora live in our digestive system. This is where we need a lot of protection.
There are three main groups of flora:
- Essential / Beneficial flora: these are the bugs we want to encourage as they are of the upmost importance to our health and will be the largest occupants in healthy people. These are the ones called ‘pro-biotic’.
- Opportunist flora: this is another large group of 500 or so different microbes that are really regulated strictly by the beneficial flora group. If any one of these 500 or combinations of these 500 get out of control then we are likely to suffer in some way (dependant on the microbe). The types of conditions caused by an imbalance of the opportunistic flora are auto-immune diseases, digestive problems, susceptibility to allergies, atherosclerosis and heart disease to name a few.
- Transitional flora: these are the ones we take in from food and the environment. In a healthy body they will pass through not causing us any harm. If we’re not balanced then they too can take hold and cause problems.
The essential bacteria are necessary for:
- providing a physical barrier between gut lining and the opportunistic flora and other invaders trying to get in.
- providing protective substances, like natural antibiotics, to dissolve the membranes of the bad bugs to render them useless.
- joining and working with the immune system for protection.
- keeping the digestive system neutralised. Many substances we consume become toxic in our bodies, they help to neutralise this.
- absorbing carcinogenic substances making them inactive.
- maintaining good digestion. Without a thick layer of healthy pro-biotic flora in our guts we will not be able to digest and absorb our food properly. This leads to problems like undigested foods being absorbed into the system causing inflammation, allergies, auto-immune reactions and toxic overload producing head aches, liver, kidney and blood problems.
Research into conditions like autism, dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, attention hyperactivity disorder, depression, eating disorders and schizophrenia have been shown to be linked to chronically damaged or inherited poor micro-flora.
You can see why they are so essential.
What damages our micro-flora?
- Contraceptive pill
- Excessive and chronic stress
- Processed food
- Poor maternal health (your gut health comes to you from your mother at birth)
- Caesarian section delivery
- Opportunistic bacteria…always ready to pounce!
- Very low calorie diets
How can we repair it?
- Removing toxins
- Remove inflammatory, irritating foods
- Clean up the diet
- Eating fermented foods (live yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir)
- Supplementing with pre and pro-biotics
- Boosting when necessary (after antibiotic treatment)
Antibiotics are one of the biggest problems for gut health. If you have been on many courses of antibiotics over the years and never seem to be able to shift that cold, or clear the cough or are always getting ill, its because your beneficial gut flora has never had chance to regrow and your immune system is now quite compromised.
If you are taking antibiotics, take the course as prescribed but take a high strength pro-biotic supplement three times a day with food but NOT with the antibiotics. Continue to take the pro-biotics at a higher dose for a month after the medication has finished to give your flora a boost. Then resume to a normal level of supplementation.
How can we boost and maintain our gut flora?
- Remove or reduce the things that damage it!
- Eat small amounts of live yoghurt and/or fermented foods each day.
- Remove processed foods from our diet.
- Choose raw milk products.
- Avoid the processed ‘friendly bacteria’ products previously mentioned. Firstly the amount of bacteria they contain is minimal by comparison to a supplement and secondly they are wrapped into a processed product.
Do I need to supplement?
I think that with the types of lives we lead now supplementing with pro-biotics is a good insurance against future health problems. By consuming a clean diet, consuming a small amount of fermented foods each day, reducing the things that damage our micro flora and taking a pro-biotic supplement will set us up for good long term health and vitality.
If you are interested in knowing more about pro-biotics then watch this video with Dr Nigel Plummer, on his research with pro-biotics. Dr Nigel Plummer talks about pro-biotics
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