Probiotics perform a wide range of functions important for maintaining good health. They can be particularly helpful in supporting digestive health. Probiotic supplements can be taken preventatively and are also often used to treat gastrointestinal problems.
So how do you know if you might benefit from a probiotic supplement? Signs of intestinal imbalance include bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation and fungal overgrowth. In addition the defence mechanisms provided by the bacterial community of a healthy gut can be compromised by chronic disease states such as inflammatory bowel disease as well as antibiotic treatment and alcohol and refined food use. Let's take a closer look at the benefits of probiotics and which conditions probiotics might be effective at helping treat.
Constipation is commonly treated with probiotics, either alone or in conjunction with other medication. Probiotics are specifically helpful in situations where constipation is caused by the improper or incomplete digestion of food. Such constipation is usually the result of imbalances in intestinal flora, and a probiotic supplement can help restore the imbalance. In this way, a probiotic may allow you to regain the ability to properly digest food.
At the other end of the scale, probiotics are also often indicated in the treatment of diarrhoea. Here they perform a dual role: firstly, a probiotic supplement can ensure that the gut flora remains healthy and well-balanced. This could speed up the return to normal defecation. Secondly, serious diarrhoea can cause the gut flora to become depleted, which can slow recovery. Supplementation of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus Plantarum seems to be particularly useful in treating diarrhoea. Traditionally, the Plantarum strain was administered alone, but modern best practice includes both Lactobacillus Plantarum and Lactobacillus Acidophilus for increased efficacy.
Gas and bloating can often occur due to the improper digestion of foods in the stomach and intestine, and due to an overgrowth of a number of bacteria or a change in the type of bacteria in the small intestine. These bacteria often produce excess gas. Probiotics have been scientifically and clinically proven to improve intestinal health by promoting a healthy balance of good bacteria, and thereby reducing the harmful bacteria that produces gas and leads to bloating. To help reduce symptoms, ensure that Bifidobacterium strains are dominant in the human colon, as these are one of the most predominant cultures of ‘good’ bacteria that are found naturally. Lactobacillus acidophilis and Bifidobacterium lactis have extensive research individually and in combination in helping to improve intestinal health and digestive health (Liong 2007, Kopp 2001, Sinn D 2008).
The gastrointestinal tract functions as a barrier and immune system modulator. It is accepted that probiotics may directly or indirectly influence the host’s immune system. Recent studies show that probiotic strain B. Lactis enhances natural immune function by promoting the normalization of increased intestinal permeability, improving altered gut microecology, improvement of the immunologic barrier and alleviation of intestinal inflammatory responses, which produce a gut-stabilizing effect.
Specific clinical trials using the combination of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis show an effect on the faecal microbiota as well as improvements in immunological parameters in healthy adults. They are able to modulate unspecific cellular immune responses by increasing phagocytic (white blood cell) activity (Liong 2007, Isolauri 2001, Klein 2008).
Probiotics have also been shown to be effective in helping people with lactose intolerance minimise their symptoms. Lactobacillus acidophilus in particular has been shown to be greatly effective in boosting levels of the lactose-digesting enzyme, lactase, in the gastrointestinal tract. Bloating, cramping, flatulence and diarrhoea can cause substantial discomfort to those with lactose intolerance, forcing them to adopt restricted diets. There is currently no cure for lactose intolerance, but certain treatments are available to improve individuals’ tolerance of lactose. Probiotics are increasingly recommended as a method to help people with lactose intolerance better digest lactose.
This article was provided by our online health partner Health365. For more information on nutrition and digestive health, visit www.health365.com.au.