Day 8 of our 30-day nutrition challenge is building awareness of probiotics and when they are necessary. Probiotic supplements are becoming more common in the UK, but they’ve been used around the world for years. Probiotics promote good gut bacteria which:
- Reduce IBS symptoms
- Support immunity (70% of immunity is influenced by gut bacteria)
- Boost mental health, reducing depression and anxiety (90% serotonin is made in your gut)
- Assist with weight management
- Reduce diarrhoea following food poisoning
- Reduce antibiotic associated diarrhoea
Altered gut bacteria can affect how we build muscle, store fat, and can impact liver function. These in turn lead to obesity, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease – so it is important that we pay some attention to this relatively new area of health discovery.
The World Health Organisation describes probiotics (good bacteria) as “living microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. Good bacteria lives in stomachs and intestines and can be added to some foods (natural yogurts), supplements (capsules, tablets, sachets), and also naturally in fermented foods.
Watch out for
Antibiotics, alcohol, smoking, stress and a limited diet can reduce the quality and quantity of good bacteria in the digestive system. Probiotics have also been suggested to help achieve a healthy weight – slim people have different bacteria than obese people, but this may be due to low fibre diets limiting the variety of bacteria.
- Antibiotics – if suggested by your GP, antibiotics should be taken for the duration specified. They are great at killing bad bacteria, but they also kill the good bacteria too. Immediately following completion of a course of antibiotics it is suggested to take probiotics to put back some of the bacteria which has been lost. In addition, some people may develop diarrhoea as a result of antibiotics, and probiotics can help to reduce this. NHS guidelines suggest taking probiotics for at least one week following the completion of antibiotics, realistically Nutritionists would suggest at least two weeks. The supplements often come in packs of 30 so it would be quite normal to take them for a month.
- Travellers tummy – if you’re travelling to a country where there is a risk of food poisoning it’s advised to take probiotics with you in case you may have an episode of diarrhoea. Choose a brand which contains at least these three strains; Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Saccharomyces boulardii.
- Constipation – Bifidobacterium lactis may be helpful to increase the frequency of bowel movements if bowel motions are not at least once a day.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – if you have IBS symptoms check with your GP first for their diagnosis. Usually they will suggest a series of simple tests to rule out anything more sinister. A common IBS symptom is bloating. A probiotic with as many strains as possible my help to reduce bloating. Pick one which has a lower level of Fructo-oligo-saccharides (FOS) as sometimes FOS can be a bit too stimulating and lead to more bloating. Try a probiotic for two weeks to see if bloating symptoms improve.
Supplements are a quick way to increase the good bacteria particularly following antibiotics or food poisoning. There are some probiotic drinks which are available from the supermarket which reduce the feeling of boating for some people however they are often expensive, high in sugar and don’t contain the quantity and breadth of strains available from health food stores. If you’d like to take probiotics over the medium to longer term for maintenance, the best source would be food. Here’s a list of some good bacteria (probiotic) food sources;
- Yogurt – choose a natural yogurt which has “live cultures – legally ” on the label. People who are lactose intolerant may also be able to tolerate this type of yogurt as the lactose has been turned into lactic acid
- Kefir – fermented food kefir is added to cows or goats milk. It can taste a little more sour than yogurt but it contains more strains of good bacteria so adding just a spoonful to natural yogurt will boost the probiotics in your natural yogurt and taste indifferent
- Sauerkraut – shredded cabbage which has been fermented by lactic acid. Added in small amounts as a side to meals. This is not a suggested food if you have under active thyroid as uncooked cabbage can reduce thyroid function
- Tempeh – a fermented soybean product which has a nutty/earthy flavour. Soybeans themselves are not suggested if you have an underactive thyroid or have low iron as they contain phytates, but if the soybean is fermented the phytic acid is reduced, and can also produce some vitamin B12 which is not usually found in plant products so there’s added benefit
- Kimchi – cabbage is the usual ingredient which is flavoured with red chilli, garlic, ginger, and contains Lactobacillus kimchi
- Miso – is a fermented soybean paste which is commonly added to soup. The flavour is slightly salty. It’s a good source of protein and fibre
- Kombucha – is a fermented black or green tea drink
- Pickles/gherkins – these are cucumbers which have been pickled in salty water to allow them to ferment. Pickles in vinegar are not the same though as they don’t contain the live bacteria
And of course remember not to just put probiotics into your diet – you also need to feed them to keep them alive. Great news is that’s the easy bit as prebiotics (food for probiotics) already exist in most peoples diets, but could you increase the variety to get added benefit. Here’s a link to our day 7 article on prebiotics.
Which probiotic is the right one?
Probiotic strains work in different ways so not all probiotics will help with all symptoms. Here’s a link to a list of probiotics and the health conditions they can help with.
Probiotics can vary in price depending on how many bacteria strains are included. Pick one which has the greatest number of strains within your budget. The most basic will include Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
Probiotics are not known to interact with medications and are considered safe to use for all age groups.
If you’d like to find out more about probiotics here’s a link to some information from the NHS.
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