Probiotics are the new buzz words these days, simply because we are learning more about their incredible benefits to digestive health and applying the knowledge to ward off illnesses and lead to longer, more productive lives. Probiotics are typically used in the same sentence (or two) with our immune system; the relationship between both are inextricably linked and they function together to keep our internal systems in check. This is mainly due to there being 70% of our immune system in the intestines, the health of which is governed by gut flora.
So how does it work? Medical Researchers are finding that one of the unlocked keys to good health is right within our gut, specifically in the world of microbes that live in it. It is also where tissues of the immune system reside. The volume of studies are mounting that “good” bacteria are not only beneficial for digestive health but are also extraordinary in stimulating immune system function. Some researchers are already working on understanding new found benefits of probiotics as an essential component in the connection with obesity. The total advantages for probiotic health just keep adding up.
According to the World Health Organisation, probiotics can be defined as live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. A diet rich in naturally occurring probiotics is now advised and encouraged.
Before our relatively recent discovery of good bacteria, all bacteria were outcasts and were not given the respect they deserved. One of the first probiotic strains that was discovered and used as an antibiotic treatment came from the bowels of a soldier during the First World War. He did not succumb to the spread of infectious bacteria that caused chronic diarrhoea (shigellosis) and killed many. The bacterium, Escherichia coli Nissle strain was found to be an effective method of treatment, when antibiotics were not yet available, for individuals with acute gastrointestinal infections.
Good versus bad bacteria
An imbalance of friendly versus harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract or gut can lead to digestive complaints that can cause far more serious health problems. Some researchers feel that symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome are directly related to a bacterial imbalance.
Harmful bacteria or microbes proliferate in conditions where there is an imbalance; when there are insufficient good bacteria to maintain good health. These symptoms can be mild to severe gastrointestinal complications and immune breakdown.
Some of the friendly microbes commonly found in foods are:
Harmful bacteria include:
• Escherichia Coli
• Clostridium difficile
The interesting fact about microbes is that they are unique to each individual, beginning at birth and evolving through life. The GI (gastro-intestinal) tract of a human foetus is completely free of bacteria and fungi. But just before infants enter this world they ingest friendly microbes present in the mother’s birth canal as they move through. Those born by Caesarean section acquire microbes from the environment. In fact, we are bombarded with 10 times more microbes in our bodies than the number of cells that exists within us.
Natural sources of Probiotics
Getting plenty of probiotics is now an important part of a healthy immune system. Choices of probiotics in foods can seem limited. One option you can use is to take probiotics in capsule supplements or add the powder form to your favourite yoghurt to increase the amount in your diet. You can also obtain probiotics from naturally cultivated foods, such as:
• Cottage cheese
• Pickled ginger
Making your own fermented Probiotic food
Not all probiotics are created equal. Because of the popularity of probiotics these days, there are questionable products on the market with deceptive labelling. When choosing a Brand of probiotics opt for one which shows the results of an independent assay.
Preparing your own probiotic through fermentation is easy to do and can be just as effective. The Lactobacillus bacteria are responsible for fermentation; they also inhibit the process of putrefying bacteria that cause foods to rot. Vegetables, fruits, and dairy are commonly used for fermentation and even people who are lactose intolerant can usually enjoy fermented dairy products, as the lactose is converted to lactic acid.