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The benefits of probiotics – why they’re not just for digestion
If you’ve ever experienced digestive issues such as cramping, bloating or constipation, you might have taken probiotics to help re-establish the balance of “good” bacteria in the gut. The benefits of probiotics, however, extend far beyond the lining of the stomach. In fact, different varieties of probiotics have been found to be beneficial for a wide range of issues and conditions, ranging from certain allergies to infections like the common cold.
And it makes sense; after all, the gastrointestinal system is home to 70 per of our immune system, and about 80 per cent of our plasma cells. Health issues might begin in the gut, but chances are they’ll disperse right throughout the body, so it’s an area that can reveal a lot about our overall health and wellbeing.
What are probiotics?
Before we talk about the benefits of probiotics, let’s have a quick recap…
Probiotics are microorganisms and are usually made up of bacteria or other organisms such as yeast. Probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium naturally occur in the human body, though their numbers can sometimes dip – for example, if you’ve been taking antibiotics. Stress, too much alcohol and a poor diet (especially one that’s high in sugar) can also wreak havoc on the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
When this happens, it can help to boost the levels of probiotics that are naturally occurring in the body.
“Probiotics help to restore and replenish the good, natural bacteria in the digestive system and reduce the growth of harmful organisms,” explains Blackmores’ naturopath Rebekah Russell. “Having a balance of the ‘good’ gut bacteria also helps to support digestive health, women’s health, and immune system and bowel health.”
In other words, having a good balance of bacteria is one important way to support overall good health.
Probiotics vs prebiotics: What are the differences?
If probiotics are the good bacteria, then prebiotics are the food that keeps them going. Yes, even bacteria needs the right fuel! “Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible carbohydrate found in certain foods, which promote the growth and activity of good bacteria in the gut,” Rebekah says. “Probiotics and prebiotics have a symbiotic relationship, in that when consumed together, they interact in a beneficial way.”
Good plant-based sources of prebiotics include fruits like bananas, watermelon, nectarines and white peaches, as well as vegetables such as leek, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, snow peas and green peas. “They are also plentiful in wholegrain foods, for example, oats, couscous, pasta, rye bread and barley, and in legumes including chickpeas, red kidney beans, lentils and nuts and seeds,” says Rebekah.
But for the real jackpot, some foods actually contain both the live bacteria (probiotics) and its fuel (prebiotics) all in one. Look for fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso for this combination.
Other health benefits of probiotics
It’s pretty clear how probiotics can help digestive issues, but what about their benefits for the rest of the body? “Gut health is linked to our general wellbeing. Our body systems are interconnected and digestive health can influence the health and balance of other systems,” says Rebekah.
Early research suggests that some strains of probiotics might promote good oral health, including helping to manage cavities. “Research is also being done on the gut-brain axis, where the brain communicates with the gut and vice versa,” notes Rebekah. “Everyone knows the feeling of getting anxious and the stomach feels as if it is ‘tied in knots’ – this reflects the relationship (via the nervous system) that occurs in the mind/brain and the gut.”
Increasingly, scientists are also looking at diverse benefits for the skin, including probiotics and eczema, and probiotics for acne. Numerous studies have found Lactobacillus acidophilus may be beneficial for children with eczema. Preliminary studies into probiotics and acne suggest that the bacteria strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus SP1 might also help improve the appearance of adult acne. Some scientists are even going as far as to say probiotics can give the “glow of health”!
Intrigued? The Blackmores Probiotics+ range is specially formulated and packaged to ensure the probiotics actually reach your digestive system where they’re needed. The products are also fridge-free, for greater convenience.
Do you take probiotics? Did you know they can benefit other parts of the body, as well as the digestive system?