Pre- and probiotics could be powerful immunity boosters. Are you getting enough of the good stuff? This article takes a closer look at the effect of pre-and probiotics on boosting your immunity, ability to avoid disease and ability to get better faster once you become sick.

What are Probiotics?

It’s a strange thought, but right from the moment we’re born, the human body becomes a host for other microorganisms. This includes the beneficial bacteria in our intestinal tracts, simply called “probiotics”.

These bacteria have daunting names such as “Lactobacillus acidophilus”, “Bifidobacterium bifidum” and “Bifidobacteria infantis”, but without them our immune systems wouldn’t be able to function as it should. These beneficial bacteria perform a number of important functions and also keep harmful bacteria in our gut in balance. Probiotics stop these bad bacterias from running rampant in our digestive tracts. This is one explanation as to how probiotics help us avoid illness… they help stop bad bacteria from getting out of control and making us sick.

What are Prebiotics?

We have established that probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help improve our health and immunity. “Prebiotics”, on the other hand, are food components that improve the food supply for micro-organisms in our gastrointestinal tracts. Prebiotics give the beneficial bacteria (i.e. probiotics) nourishment and thus a chance to grow and flourish. Our prebiotic levels can be naturally boosted by eating lots of fruit and vegetables. Some probiotic supplements, such as Restore 30 Billion Probiotic and Restore Bowel and Colon Probiotic have added prebiotics to help probiotics survive and grow in our stomach.

Beneficial bacteria in babies

Before birth, a baby’s gastrointestinal tract is totally sterile. This means that it doesn’t contain any bacteria – not even the “good” ones. During the natural birth process, the baby receives some beneficial bacteria from the mother – organisms that immediately start to multiply, boosting the little one’s immunity.

Preliminary research shows that these good bacteria (mostly Bifidobacteria infantis) can decrease the growth of so-called Rota viruses, known for causing diarrhoea and thrush, thus protecting the new-born against common infections. The bacteria also seem to help prevent lactose intolerance, while increasing the absorption of minerals and B vitamins and boosting the infant’s immature immune system.

What’s more, Australian researchers recently discovered that probiotics can prevent a serious bowel condition called necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies. In the study done at Sydney’s Nepean Hospital, in which a probiotic was mixed with breast milk and given to the babies, the healthy bacteria cut the risk of infection by 50%.

Breast milk also contains immune-boosting probiotics, which means that breastfeeding is another excellent way of increasing the number of Bifidobacteria in a baby’s intestinal tract.

Beneficial bacteria in adults

Adults have much bigger populations of gut bacteria, but only a few of these groups (e.g. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria) seem to be beneficial to our health and capable of boosting immunity.

Several factors – such as stress, use of antibiotics, diarrhoea, an unhealthy diet, pollution, infections such as HIV/Aids, and ageing – can decrease our natural immunity and make us vulnerable to pathogens that cause disease. In addition, many harmful bacteria and viruses are becoming resistant to antibiotics, making treatment of common infections increasingly difficult.

Research shows that probiotics compete with harmful bacteria for food in the gastrointestinal tract, preventing them from multiplying and causing disease. They also seem to boost the uptake of important minerals, thus preventing deficiencies that could lower immunity.

The solution

Even though our understanding of probiotics is a work in progress, we can all potentially benefit from ingesting probiotic cultures.

Interestingly, the Bifidobacteria are the most common probiotics in the gastrointestinal system and also the good bacteria that decreases most as we age. It’s therefore important to take probiotic supplements or eat foods that contain live Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Examples of foods rich in these strains include yoghurt, soy milk, miso soup and our Nature’s Way Probiotic Choc Balls.

——

This article was provided by our online partner Health365. For more information on how probiotics support immunity, visit www.health365.com.au.