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Gut health has taken centre stage in the world of natural health for many years and it is finally breaking into the mainstream – but do you know why gut health matters so much? Our gut houses a tremendous collection of micro-organisms that affect much of our body’s internal activities, from how we digest nutrients to our immune function and even our brain function! Gut health is at the very centre of all of these bodily processes so ensuring we have good gut health is very important.
Probiotics are supplements or food-based products that contain healthy bacterial strains in order to colonise (live in, exist in and interact with) our gut.
The benefits of probiotics are being highlighted in much evidence-based research. They occur naturally in our bodies and are part of the flora of our colons but they often need an extra boost. While the mechanism is not fully understood, probiotics have also been shown to be useful in reducing allergic tendencies1 and some evidence suggests that enhancing an individual’s gut flora has positive effects on skin conditions such as acne, as well as on too much sun exposure and accelerated skin aging.2
It might sound strange but there is a strong link and there is much research being conducted on the benefit of the gut-brain connection. The gut-brain connection is a concept that connects the microflora in our digestive tract help with our neurological health, including memory, focus and learning, anxiety and depression and stress.
Certain people should definitely be taking a probiotic supplement at certain times in their lives. If you are on antibiotic medication, probiotics help restore the natural bacteria that the medication might wipe out. Be sure to begin the course of probiotics immediately after the course of antibiotics though as the antibiotics might immediately kill off the good bacteria you’re introducing through supplementation.
If you’re traveling abroad, take probiotics right before and during your trip to help ward off food-borne illnesses or if you think you might have a case of food poisoning when you’re at home, take probiotics to help the good bacteria ward off the bad ones making you sick. Exotic travels aside, people who suffer from a variety of gastrointestinal disorders can benefit from probiotics. Probiotics can help with everything from minor issues with gas or diarrhoea, to debilitating conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease, to temporary infections from E. coli and H. pylori.
Not all probiotics are created equal. In fact, many strains of probiotics are not even capable of surviving the acid and bile of our stomach (the first stop in the digestive tract after the mouth)! Obviously if the healthy bacteria can’t make it beyond the first stop, it really isn’t doing any good, so how do you know if you are taking the right probiotic?
Although there are many species with probiotic activity, most probiotics belong to one of two groups—Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Then there are different species types, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Beyond that, nomenclature is the strain type, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus DDS-1. Many supplements won’t include the strain type, but it is important to know, since different strains serve different purposes.
As a general guide, choose a supplement that has at least seven distinct strains and at least 5 billion colony-forming units, or CFUs. Additionally, live probiotics are the only form that are truly beneficial, since they can colonise and grow in the intestine only if they are alive. It’s common to find supplements that contain living microbes at the time of manufacture. But often there isn’t a guarantee they’re alive by the time you consume them. Check to see if the supplement needs to be refrigerated or if it’s okay at room temperature. Most important, be sure you are buying from a manufacturer that is impeccable with quality.
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