Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine stated that ‘all disease begins in the gut’ but why would that be the case when we experience symptoms that seem to have no relation to our digestive system?
1st line of defence
70% of our immune system is found in the gut making it the first line of defence against viruses and bacteria. Our guts are teeming with bacteria – both good and bad – and it is this ‘microflora’ that is so important to our health and wellbeing. An imbalance of good and bad bacteria can lead to poor gut function which in turn can leave us susceptible to all sorts of health problems.
Did you know?
Our gut microflora helps us to breakdown and release important nutrients from food and protect us against infections by strengthening our immune systems. They also produce short chain fatty acids which stabilise blood glucose levels, decrease the level of concentration of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood, and help to protect our gut lining from infections.
Dysbiosis is a term used to indicate an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria. Many things can lead to an imbalance such as overuse of antibiotics, stress or a diet high in sugar. When the bad bacteria thrive and overtake the good bacteria we can suffer many digestive complaints such as bloating, flatulence and heartburn. However it is now known that a dysbiosis of gut microflora can result in more serious conditions such as obesity, mental health problems and ADHD.
How can you restore the balance?
Both probiotics and prebiotics can help rebalance the gut microflora. Probiotics are good bacteria that can be found in foods such as live yoghurt (bio), sauerkraut, miso or tempeh (fermented soya beans) and sourdough bread. You can also obtain them through supplementation in the form of capsules.
Prebiotics act like a ‘fertisliser’, encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria. They can be found in kefir (a dairy drink), asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, some root vegetables and legumes. You can also take a supplemental form of prebiotics called FOS (frutco-oligo-saccharides) which are found naturally in onions and garlic as well as chicory root.
How can probiotics benefit my health?
Many people take probiotics to ease digestive symptoms such as flatulence or belching, constipation or diarrhoea (especially useful for IBS), helping with food intolerances and boosting immunity. I always recommend hay fever sufferers start a course of probiotics in February to ‘prime’ the immune system for the season ahead.
However, as I have said that there is a great deal of research going into the effects of gut flora on more serious conditions such as dementia, cancer and mental health problems.
I would also recommend that you take a course for at least a month, if you have suffered from a tummy bug, diarrohea (especially if you have been abroad), after a course of antibiotics, infections such as thrush or cystitis or are generally rundown.
Which supplement should I take?
There are numerous probiotics on the market, many of which will contain different strains that can all benefit particular conditions. However, I suggest you take one which contains both lactobacillus and bifidobacteria – two of the most well researched bacteria. Choose one that contains at least 10,000,000 (10 million) live bacteria.
Keep your probiotics in the fridge – the bacteria are sensitive to light and heat so you will help to prolong their effectiveness by keeping them refrigerated.
Are they safe for everyone?
Probiotics are well researched and have a good safety record. However, if you suffer from an auto-immune conditions or are taking immuno-suppressant medication, it would be sensible to consult your GP.