PROBIOTICS ARE GOOD FOR OUR DIGESTION
but research suggests that they could have benefits that extend beyond the gut
Article reprinted with the kind permission of Louise Atkinson and the Daily Mail
The yoghurt cure: Probiotics are good for our digestion. But they can also combat flu, allergies and bad breath
By LOUISE ATKINSON
Article reprinted with the kind permission of Louise Atkinson and the Daily Mail
Last updated at 12:29 PM on 25th May 2010
Most of us know something about the good bacteria (probiotics) in our stomachs, thanks to advertising. Two million of us now consume them in the form of drinks, yoghurts, powders and capsules. Science has come to accept there is some truth in the enthusiastic claims made for probiotics that they help fight 'bad' bugs in your gut and improve intestinal health.
And now research suggests that probiotics could have benefits that extend beyond the gut, such as treating illnesses from type-1 diabetes to fibromyalgia. There is also interest in preliminary research suggesting that probiotics might even be able to enhance weight loss. Scientists are developing specific probiotics to prevent dental cavities, probiotic lozenges for sore throats, probiotic nasal sprays and probiotic deodorant sticks that deal with the bacteria that cause body odour. They're talking about probiotic vaccines to treat inflammatory diseases and probiotic cleaning products for the home.
In her new book, Good Gut Bugs, leading nutritionist Kathryn Marsden presents a comprehensive analysis of the science of gut bacteria and the latest thinking about using probiotics to treat a wide variety of illnesses - not just to boost general well-being. With more than 20 years of experience in treating patients, she has devised a unique guide to probiotics and how to use them to treat your ailment.
SO WHAT ARE GUT BACTERIA?
There are varying levels of bacteria living all over and in our bodies - mostly in our intestines. They are known as commensal bacteria, which under normal circumstances cause no harm. Some are useful (these are the good bugs) but others have the potential to be very harmful. For example, the 'superbug' bacterium Clostridium difficile or the ulcer infector helicobacter pylori may live harmlessly within us, but can be the cause of serious illness if the gut environment gets out of balance and they multiply. The good bacteria, sometimes called 'friendly flora', are on our side. These live micro-organisms improve the balance of the intestinal soup by depriving polluting and dangerous bacteria of food and inhibiting their growth.
Left to their own devices they aid digestion and the absorption of nutrients (basically determining how well-nourished we are). They also oil the wheels of peristalsis (the process by which food and wastes move through the system). They look after the mucus membranes in our body by stimulating the production of mucins (the proteins in mucus that lubricate and protect our 'inside' skin) and secreting nutrients that are used for tissue repair. And they improve the balance of friendly flora in the urogenital area, reducing the risk of bladder or vaginal infections. Bugs in the bowel help in the production of B vitamins - vital for the efficient running of our nervous system. however, our natural probiotic levels are easily damaged by factors such as poor diet, stress, alcohol, hormonal fluctuations, cigarettes, surgery and drugs. Once the critical balance of good bacteria is impaired, bad bacteria waste no time in grabbing any opportunity to take over.
AM I LACKING GOOD BACTERIA?If you have a problem with body odour, suffer with bloating/noxious wind or are plagued by fungal infections, then your bad bacteria are very likely taking control - but take the quiz at the bottom of the page to help you decide.
The good bacteria, sometimes called 'friendly flora', are on our side. These live micro-organisms improve the balance of the intestinal soup by depriving polluting and dangerous bacteria of food and inhibiting their growth.
HOW BAD BUGS COULD BE MAKING YOU ILL
Research suggests that many common ailments are linked to bad bacteria. here we reveal how:
Most body odours, such as bad breath, are caused by bad bacteria.
Malodour can be caused by rotting teeth, unhealthy gums, poor digestion, the ulcer bacteria helicobacter pylori or any number of other illnesses.
But the biggest problem is the bacteria in our mouths that feed on the almost constant supply of food that comes their way.
Some people naturally have low numbers of bad (pathogenic) bacteria and far higher levels of protective bacteria in their mouths. Sadly, only two per cent of the population fall into this category and the rest of us have to work on rebalancing our bug population.
Treatment: As well as practising good dental hygiene, boost your good gut bugs by adding fermented milk products, such as live yoghurt, to your diet.
Take a probiotic supplement regularly. There is good evidence it helps to regulate the growth of troublesome bacteria.
Such supplements work by reducing the risk of dental decay in children's teeth, meaning that fewer adult cavities develop later in life and lessening the likelihood of mouth ulcers and other oral infections.
A sluggish bowel is often the result of disturbed intestinal bacteria
A sluggish bowel is often the result of disturbed intestinal bacteria: you don't have enough good gut bugs. If things are persistently foul smelling, the problem will almost always be a large bowel with too much bad bacteria and a lack of good bacteria.
Treatment: Improve your diet. Many people have far too little fibre in their diets, but there's more to a healthy colon than bran breakfast cereals.
There are other fibres which are more effective and better for the gut (fruit, vegetables, pulses, seeds and nuts). Drink water, juices, teas and soups. one cause of dry, hard and slow-moving faeces is a lack of fluid.
Add probiotic shots, live yoghurt and buttermilk to your diet or take a best-quality probiotic supplement until the constipation is resolved. Then repeat the same course for a month every few months.
There's good evidence from scientific studies that improving the diet and adding probiotic bacteria is a healthy way to prevent and treat 'slow transit'. See your doctor if you remain constipated, are in pain or you notice any changes in bowel habit.
There is a link between bad gut bacteria and allergies. Studies are looking at whether probiotics might help asthma and allergy sufferers, by switching off an inflammatory response in the intestine.
Research shows people with allergies have lower levels of healthy gut flora. Probiotics can help reset that bacteria balance, providing a protective barrier in the gut.
Treatment: Have a daily probiotic drink. Research shows that people who include fermented milk in their diet have a better immunity to pollen (they have lower levels of an antibody that aggravates allergy symptoms).
They also had higher levels of the antibody IGG, which protects against allergic reactions. Take probiotic supplements as they can ease the symptoms of respiratory allergies, such as asthma and eczema. Be patient. supplements can take between 12 to 16 weeks to work.
COLDS AND FLU
Probiotics can be of value in boosting a flagging immune system
Probiotics can be of value in boosting a flagging immune system. Studies carried out on healthy people found that those who use probiotic supplements and probiotic foods have fewer colds and winter infections.
Probiotics can prime the immune system and increase resistance to infection by producing (natural) antibiotics.
Treatment: Protect yourself by taking a daily multi-vitamins and a probiotic supplement, especially during the winter. Studies show that multi-nutrient supplements taken with probiotics for a three-month period can lessen the number and severity of symptoms and the duration of a cold by several days.
If cost is an issue then include a daily probiotic drink or a plain 'live' yoghurt. Although large doses may be recommended, small amounts can still be helpful.
Adapted from Good Gut Bugs by Kathryn Marsden (Piatkus) £12.99. © Kathryn Marsden 2010. To order a copy at £11.70 (p&p free), call 0845 155 0720.
NOW TAKE OUR GOOD GUT BUG QUIZ
Q: Do you suffer from: heartburn or acid reflux; bloating; bad breath; body odour; belching; colds; constipation; diarrhoea; food cravings; hiatus hernia; PMS or hot flushes; itchy nose; itchy bottom; irritable bowel syndrome; wind; allergies; malodorous stools; stomach pain; stomach ulcers; thrush; urinary infections; vaginal discharge?
Answer 'A' if the question applies to you never or hardly ever (maybe once or twice in your life), 'B' if you occasionally suffer (no more than once every five years), 'C' if you suffer several times a year, and 'D' if it's most of the time.
Q: How often do you go to the dentist?
A: Just for check-ups - I hardly ever need treatment. B: Check-ups and the occasional filling. C: I need treatment each time. D: I never go.
Q: How often have you needed antibiotics in the past 15 years?
A: Never. B: Once a year. C: I always seem to be on them for something. D: I have a health condition which means I have to take antibiotics most of the time.
Q: Do you take daily medicine such as statins, steroids, inhalers or acid-suppressing drugs?
A: No. D: Yes.
Mostly As: You don't need probiotics.
Mostly Bs: Your health isn't too bad, but it could be better. Make simple improvements to your diet and lifestyle and consider taking a daily probiotic to prevent serious problems.
Mostly Cs: Your health problems are beginning to get in the way of your life. Probiotics could ease symptoms and reduce drug side-effects.
Mostly Ds: This D could stand for danger if you don't change your way of living. Probiotics and improved diet could give you an extra boost and might ease some of your symptoms.
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