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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The below strains of bacteria have been shown to be beneficial in these particular instances:
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. Let's take a closer look at the benefits of probiotics and which conditions probiotics might be effective at helping treat.
Constipation can be commonly treated with probiotics. 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.
Antibiotics are commonly prescribed drugs that inhibit or kill the growth of micro-organisms in the body. They are used either:
Taking a probiotic (a supplement of food that contains more of this 'good bacteria') can help to restore the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut that is often affected by antibiotics. This additional 'good' bacteria helps a number of digestive and immune functions in our body, and importantly prevents the proliferation of 'bad' bacteria which can make us sick. As such, taking a probiotic can work to either minimise the severity of, or totally negate, the unpleasant side effects of taking antibiotics. A healthy balance of “good” bacteria is important for maintaining everyday health, digestive health and immunity and probiotics help you achieve this.
Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis in particular have been shown to be effective in preventing antibiotic-associated imbalances. In a double-blind controlled study, patients who received both antibiotics and Lactobacillus did not develop diarrhoea. This result is particularly important for elderly and immune-compromised people.
If you are taking a course of antibiotics, taking a probiotic during and for several weeks after can help to replenish gut flora balance. It is recommended that probiotics are taken at least two hours from antibiotics, within 30 minutes of eating or as recommended by your healthcare professional.
Want to know more about probiotics and immunity? Check out our range of digestion and probiotic products.
This article was provided by our friends at health365. For mroe information on the benefits of probiotics, visit Health365.com.au.