‘While the connections between the microbiome and the immune and metabolic systems are well appreciated, research into the role gut microbes play in shaping the nervous system is an exciting frontier in the biological sciences’.
~ N Soux (professor of microbiology)
Live, good bacteria, or probiotics, play a vital role in how well your immune system and brain function. During foetal development in utero, the brain and stomach are the first organs to develop together. Probiotics are essential in the digestion and absorption of our food and actively synthesise nutrients. Your digestive system is like a mini-brain, affecting mood and appetite.
Distributed in the wall of the gut is a network of neurons known as the enteric nervous system. There are in fact more nerves in your gut than in your spinal column! So it makes sense that we should take better care of our gut health.
DO YOU NEED TO SUPPLEMENT?
- Have you taken any antibiotics during the past year? Maybe you have taken one five years ago. By taking antibiotics (orally or intravenously), pain medication, anti-inflammatories and even the Pill, you destroy the gut microbiota (the bad, but also the good gut bacteria).
- Food poisoning is a shift in the equilibrium resulting in more bad bacteria than good.
- If you are suffering from yeast infections or yeast overgrowth you have to ensure you repopulate your gut with good bacteria.
- Problem skin? There is a good chance that once you fix the inside, your state of good health will reflect on the outside.
- Depressed or moody? Probiotics can increase serotonin production. We know that serotonin is a neurotransmitter, but did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive system – as you fix the gut, your mood may begin to lift. Communication takes place between the gut and the brain via the brain-gut-axis, and signals flow in both directions.
- Food cravings? Microbes can manufacture peptides (special proteins similar to hormones) that regulate hunger – therefore peptides can mimic hunger-regulating hormones. We can produce antibodies against these peptides. Gut bacteria may directly influence our eating behaviour by interfering with appetite regulation.
- Chemicals and sprays are not just carcinogenic, but also eradicate our microbiome and kill off good bacteria. Even the food preservative sodium benzoate kills bacteria.
- Should you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria, your gut lining will eventually be destroyed, leading to leaky gut (please read more about this alarming condition in our May issue, issue 129).
- Probiotics are beneficial in patients suffering from periodontitis and gingivitis as shown in a study where participants were given lozenges to suck, enriched with probiotic strands. The beneficial effect of probiotics on halitosis was demonstrated by chewing probiotic-enriched gum.
Ensure you choose a well-known, good quality probiotic supplement as various factors affect the life of probiotics. Supplements are available in powder, tablet, capsule, oil, gum and lozenge form.
Less than 1% of people may have bloating and I suggest you lower the dosage. You cannot overdose on probiotic supplements and they are safe for pregnant and lactating women and very beneficial for children and the elderly.
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that trigger the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. A good example is the soluble fibre inulin, found in wheat, bananas, garlic, onion, asparagus and artichokes. Probiotics are live microscopic organisms.
When to take
This depends on the label. Some are taken with and others without food; it depends on the supplement coating used.
How long is treatment?
Usually two to three weeks or until symptoms disappear.
Supplementation depends entirely on your condition and the general suggestion is to supplement every four to six months.
You have almost 100 trillion bacteria in your gut weighing around 1.5 kg! This is more than the human cells in your body by a factor of 100 to one.
PROBIOTIC FOOD SOURCES
Probiotic food sources include yoghurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk, kefir, aged cheeses, lebne, miso, tempeh, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, and pickled foods. But I have to add: food may or may not contain probiotics after processing, transportation and storage. Lesser-known probiotic foods available in other parts of the world include kermavilli (Finland), kimchi (Asia), curtido (Central America) choucroute (France) and lassi, dadhi, maziwa lal, and chach, which are popular in India.
To maintain good gut flora between bursts of supplementation, consume fermented foods and other probiotic-rich foods mentioned above; avoid sugar and processed food and eat soluble fibre (prebiotics) to feed the probiotics.
Research into the benefits of probiotics is ongoing. Our cosmetic industry incorporates probiotics in skin and hair products. But that is a topic for another article. And lastly, especially when travelling, don’t leave home without a good probiotic!
Did you know?
Beneficial bacteria live safely in the appendix until needed. This is how you can recover from a bout of diarrhoea that completely evacuates the intestines: The good bacteria emerge from the appendix to repopulate the gut.