Keeping it healthy

Probiotics Part 2: How to benefit from probiotics

So the answer is: Eat them! Thats the end of this post. Nah, just kidding!

It's all well and good to know that probiotics are good for us, but is it just a matter of eating probiotic food? Well the answer is apparently not!

To benefit from probiotics, the environment into which they are released is important. It’s like having our own little internal ecosystem. Maximising the health of the organisms that live there, in turn maximises the health of the host, which is us.

To improve digestive health, we need to primarily focus on what we eat. So to have a good “ecosystem” we need to provide the body with plenty of fibre and resistant starch, which are found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans, baked beans, red-kidney beans, cannellini beans, soybeans, peanuts) [1]. The fibre is used as a food source for some types of gut bacteria which then produces a byproduct that can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body [1].

Sometimes we need to have antibiotics to combat certain health conditions. Unfortunately, when this occurs, the good bacteria in our gut, is often decreased and so needs to be repopulated.

It may surprise you to learn that stress, inflammation and trauma can also alter gut bacteria [2]. Conversely, an over-population of unhealthy gut bacteria can cause mental stress and inflammation [2]. Additionally, research has been indicating that our gut bacteria can be a contributing factor for obesity and its related conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [3]. Further research is underway to confirm this.

Repopulating the gut with good bacteria

As previously mentioned, a good supply of fibre can help provide a suitable environment for the probiotics to become established. Further to that we need to know what foods contain the good bacteria we are seeking. Different probiotics have been scientifically shown to have different effects on the body. As an example, a bacteria known as L. reuteri found in sourdough [4], has been studied and shown to have a benefit for people with high cholesterol [1]. While LGG or B.lactis found in fermented foods such as yoghurts [5] have shown promise in treating atopic eczema associated with cow’s milk allergy [1].

Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) has been extensively studied for its health promoting properties. There are many strains of this bacteria and it is found in a large variety of fermented foods as well as being a major bacteria found in the guts of humans.

What foods contain probiotics

Fermented foods have been around for 1000s of years in many countries from around the world and are rich in probiotics of varying types [4].

Some of the common foods that are rich in probiotics include:

  • Yoghurt

  • Sauerkraut

  • Cheese

  • Sourdough

While some less well known foods that contain probiotics include.

  • Kimchi from South Korea

  • Kombucha from Russia and China

  • Kefir from Russia

  • Kavass from Russia

  • Miso from Japan

  • Surstromming from Sweden

As well as many, many more!

How much is enough

A recommended amount of 100 million to 1 billion bacteria need to reach the intestines to achieve health benefits [6]. The probiotics need to first survive the acidic trip through the stomach and small intestines before making it to its useful destination. This can be achieved by tablets or by foods. I personally prefer the food options as it works out cheaper. The downside of using food is that it is quite difficult to know how many probiotics you have ingested and how many survive the journey to provide the benefits that they are known for.

My personal view is that for most healthy people it would be wise to start increasing your intake of fermented foods slowly and gauge your requirements by your body's responses to them. If you find that you have symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea you may want to decrease your dose until you find the level that suits you. Once your digestive system is used to the dose, you can try increasing it to see if you can tolerate a larger dose. As fermented foods are not known to be harmful (except for alcohol), you should be able to moderate your intake by how you respond to the food.

If you would prefer to use a tablet form, then be guided by the manufacturers suggestions and be sure to have a tablet that has been produced and stored at the correct temperature so as to not kill the bacteria.

I have one more blog post on probiotics coming soon!
This time we will look at how to make your own fermented food containing probiotics!

[1] Mizock, B. A. (2015). probiotics. Disease-a-Month : DM, 61(7), 259-290. doi:10.1016/j.disamonth.2015.03.011

[2] Keightley, P. C., Koloski, N. A., & Talley, N. J. (2015). Pathways in gut-brain communication: Evidence for distinct gut-to-brain and brain-to-gut syndromes. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49(3), 207-214. doi:10.1177/0004867415569801

[3] Mekkes,M., Weenen, T., Brummer, R. and Claassen, E. "The development of probiotic treatment in obesity: a review.," Beneficial Microbes, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 19-28. doi: 10.3920/BM2012.0069., March 2014.

[4] Chilton, S. N., Burton, J. P., & Reid, G. (2015). Inclusion of Fermented Foods in Food Guides around the World. Nutrients, 7(1), 390–404.

[5] Chiang, B. L., Sheih, Y. H., Wang, L. H., Liao, C. K., & Gill, H. S. (2000). Enhancing immunity by dietary consumption of a probiotic lactic acid bacterium (bifidobacterium lactis HN019): Optimization and definition of cellular immune responses.European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 54(11), 849-855. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601093

[6] Govender, M et al. AAPS PharmSciTech (2014) 15: 29. doi:10.1208/s12249-013-0027-1

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