What’s the deal with probiotics?

20 April 2017 by
First published: 31 October 2016

It’s time to get the lowdown: what’s the deal with probiotics? Why are they so important to our overall health?

‘The gut can be described as a second brain because of its influence on the rest of the body,’ shares dietician Jo Travers. ‘Extracting nutrients from food and supporting the function of the immune system are just a few benefits of consuming probiotics,’ she continues.

Step into any supermarket and you’ll see rows of products designed to protect or enhance your digestion. There’s no doubt that it’s a big business! Top agricultural scientist Professor Nagendra Shah (based at The School of Biological Sciences at The University of Hong Kong), shares the main reasons why probiotics should be part of our daily lives.

Improved digestion

As over 70 per cent of our immune system is located in our digestive tract, not looking after our digestion can lead to health problems further down the line. An estimated two in every 10 people in the UK suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, which can include symptoms such as bloating and discomfort, as well as diarrhoea. By rebalancing the stomach’s bacteria through promoting the growth of good bacteria in the gut, probiotics has been proven to aid healthy digestion.

Anticarcinogenic effect

Most of us have had our lives affected by cancer at some point, and probiotics has been proven to lower the risks of several forms of this illness, including bowel cancer.

Fights allergies

The number of allergy sufferers globally is steadily increasing, and it’s estimated there are more than ten million sufferers in the UK alone. While genetic and environmental factors cause each individual’s condition to vary, probiotic supplements have proven to reduce inflammatory factors within the intestines, aiding sufferers of both seasonal and food allergies.

Lowers blood pressure

Operating within the intestinal tract, probiotics are able to improve high blood pressure by tackling the bacterial imbalances that cause it.

Key sources?

So now we know why we need to consume probiotics, how do we get them? Well, while there is a diverse range of supplements available, probiotics is most easily consumed in dairy products, such as yoghurt, milk and even sour cream. Professor Shah recommends you eat yoghurt and take probiotic drinks (such as Yakult or Activia), while dietician Jo Travers suggests adding fermented foods (such as kimchi or sauerkraut), and supplements VSL#3 and Bio-Kult to your diet. Also, you should avoid sugar, genetically modified foods and tap water, which could all possibly expose your gut to bad bacteria that disrupts the balance needed to stay healthy. These are factors we can control, however, emotional stress and prescription antibiotics also increase the risk of unsettling our digestive system. Finally, not all probiotics are created equal, so it’s important to research which products are best for you before purchase, and buy directly from the manufacturer or a reputable chemist in order to get the freshest product – as bacteria can struggle to survive if stored in the wrong conditions.