The age-old quote, 'let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food' by Hippocrates is certainly of relevance in todays world. Gut health is something that can be related to this and is an extremely important determinant in someone’s health. The nutrition that we provide for our body plays a huge role in this and probiotics in particular, are a very important aspect of any nutritional plan in order to optimise gut health and overall wellbeing.
According to the WHO definition, probiotics are termed as 'live microorganisms that when being administered in appropriate doses, confer benefit of health to the receiver' (1). More specifically probiotics are naturally occurring 'good bacteria' found in the gut. The actual amount of bacteria in our gut is enormous and in fact collectively, the human gut microbiota encode 150 times more genes then are present in the human genome- mind-boggling stuff!
These 'good bacteria' play significant roles in human health and are extremely important. Firstly they have a role in stimulating and educating the immune system. Gut bacteria prime the developing immune system to recognise and later respond to bacterial invasion. Several studies have revealed that feeding a particular type of 'good' bacteria to healthy volunteers, increased peripheral blood leucocytes and natural killer cells which play important roles in tumour killing and viral destruction (2). Another role that probiotics play is that they break down dietary compounds into a form that is useable by us, thereby increasing the absorption of many nutrients- meaning that we get more bang for our buck in the foods that we consume (3).
When there is an imbalance in our gut- between 'good' and 'bad' bacteria, this is known as dysbiosis. This can cause issues in our gastrointestinal and immune systems and can increase our susceptibility to many conditions such as eczema, bloating, anxiety, and even inflammatory bowel disease just to name a few (1). Whilst usually pretty tough old things, there are a number of factors that can compromise bacteria health. Considered potentially the most detrimental to probiotics is the use of antibiotics. These can kill a species of good bacteria in the gut and that can make available a spot for bad bacteria to invade. Other factors include, high sugar intake, alcohol, stress and overconsumption of high processed meats (such as luncheon sausage) (3).
Therefore, when we have been on a cycle of antibiotics, stressed at uni or work or simply haven't been eating as well as we should be (we have all been there!) then focusing on increasing the probiotics in our diet can be beneficial to our health. Probiotics taken from the diet can help balance your 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in order to keep your body working as it should be. Great sources include whole organic yoghurt, kefir and fermented sauerkraut. Taking a probiotic supplement is also a good idea if you are concerned about whether or not you may be getting enough from your diet. Ensuring that the supplements you are using are from a reputable brand is important to ensure the quality of the product.
Probiotics are extremely important for gut health, which overall, has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. Ensuring you consume probiotic rich foods every day and supplementation when you feel you need it will do wonders for your vitality!
1. Singh, V., Bunger, R. (2014). Probiotic and Gut Health. Journal International medical science academy, 27 (1) 41-45.
2. Tuohy, K., Probert, H., Smejkal, C., Gibson, G. (2003). Using probiotics and prebiotics to improve gut health. Drug Discovery Today, 8(15) 692-700.
3. Fuller, R., Gibson, G. (2008). Probiotics and prebiotics: microflora management for improved gut health. Clinical microbiology and infection, 4(9) 477-480.