Your Gut Bacteria Explained – Probiotics
Every day in the pharmacy, I am asked about how we can recover best after a bout of infection, whether viral or bacterial. One of our best tools in the recovery from an infection is the addition of Probiotics as a supplement to our healthy diet.
Our bodies contain a unique colony of microorganisms living everywhere from the mouth to the lower intestine and in the case of females their vaginal flora. When everything is going right these microorganisms keep your bowel running smoothly, your gut feeling fresh and your immune system ready to defend. Problems tend to arise though when things get thrown off kilter. This is where the addition of probiotics into your daily routine plays a key role.
Probiotics contain billions of live cultures or microorganisms uniquely designed to reach whatever part of the body is affected. In this day and age I would not hesitate in recommending the use of probiotics daily for adults and children of all ages especially when we are trying to keep our immune systems primed against Covid.
Unless you eat a diets containing no refined sugar, preservatives and additives and full of fermented cabbage, organic kombucha, kefir, tempeh and kimchi, you would benefit from a good probiotic in your daily life. Before you raise your hand and say you eat a yoghurt every day for breakfast, please read the following –
Your typical supermarket yoghurt contains the following ingredient list.
Yogurt (milk), Water, Modified Maize Starch, Orange Juice from Concentrate (2%), Flavourings, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Powder, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Concentrated Butter (milk), Sugar, Thickeners: Pectins, Guar Gum; Acidity Regulators: Citric Acid, Sodium Citrates; Sweeteners: Aspartame, Acesulfame K; Colour: Carotenes.
The problem here is while there may be some probiotic cultures floating around in there somewhere, they’re so diluted with all of these other lovely chemicals the benefit of the probiotics’ properties are lost.
What you want is yoghurt with an ingredient list along these lines.
Organic Semi Skimmed milk, Organic Skimmed milk Powder, Cultures (Streptococcus thermophilus, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus casei) and you also want to be eating a 500g tub of it every day to counteract everything else going into your body that has been processed and treated before you ever get round to eating it.
This is not an anti yoghurt rant merely an example of where the pitfalls in a lot of the food we consume today are and how it may, unbeknownst to us affect our gut health.
Consider these common ailments we, the general population struggle with constantly but can’t ever quite seem to put our fingers on; just generally “out of sorts”, sluggish, bloated, low on energy (even though you slept soundly all week), queasy but not vomiting, bit constipated (or the opposite). Women- vaginal dryness an issue? Recurrent thrush infections that no cream, pessary or capsule can keep at bay? Is it possible that you could have, somewhere along the line depleted the natural balance of those little colonies inside you trying to keep everything on track? I think in the modern world today it is almost impossible not to. We have all had ‘just the one drink’ on the weekend or the odd takeaway when you just didn’t have the time to cook a raw organic fermented meal (that I’m sure your kids would only love) We have all been under the weather at some point and had to give in and take a course of antibiotics which have quite literally killed off all the bacteria both good and bad from our systems. Life gets in the way but thankfully there is a solution. Probiotics!
As a pharmacist I will only recommend patients take something if I genuinely believe there is a clinically relevant reason to and other options have been tried and exhausted. I would only recommend adding a probiotic supplement to your diet if I genuinely feel it would be of benefit to you and for the majority of the population I believe it is.
A probiotic simply put, is a specific blend of microorganisms (a living thing that cannot be seen by the naked eye) designed to provide beneficial results. The most common strains that naturally occur in the gut include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Probiotics aim to act in the same manner as these. Depending on the ailment I will recommend probiotics specific to the part of the body involved. Below is a list (not exhaustive) of the most commonly found probiotics today.
A healthy microbiome – or gut affects the good health of so many of our bodies’ systems. The state of our gut plays a role in many things, eg our mental health, our immune health and our skin health.
The following are the names of individual strains of bacteria that we find in probiotics and how they might help us.
Lactobacillus acidophilus – largely involved in intestine health and is thought to aid digestion of lactose due to the production of the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose. Lactose is most commonly found in dairy products so where giving up all dairy (including chocolate) is not an option this is where one may consider taking this as an alternative.
Lactobacillus bulgaricus –this is most commonly found in yoghurts (the real healthy kind) and benefits general wellbeing of the gut but specifically the gut walls.
Lactobacillus casei – this strain comes in useful for conditions like infectious diarrhoea, traveler’s diarrhoea, and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea
Lactobacillus gasseri – believed to improve immune function and digestion.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus and reuteri – these strains can reach the vaginal flora where they can weaken the growth of harmful bacteria by restoring the ph of the vagina to a healthy level. Antibiotics in particular interfere with this natural ph and as a result women are very prone to developing thrush infections after.
Streptococcus thermophilus – mainly involved in improving the function of the gastrointestinal tract and can still thrive in the harsh acidic environment of the stomach. Saccharomyces boulardii– this is less well known in the western world but is what I recommend to all my patients to treat acute bouts of diarrhoea. It is a natural probiotic yeast with a solid evidence base and has been researched in detail worldwide. This guy can bind to harmful bacteria such as e-coli and salmonella and flush them out of your system. E-coli and salmonella are usually the main culprits in any of those nasty stomach bugs that tend to do the rounds every now and then. Some patients with chronic illnesses like crohn’s and IBS use it in conjunction with their therapies and particularly during flare ups to reduce the intensity of their symptoms and improve their recovery time.
Adding this one thing into your daily routine could solve a host of issues that have otherwise never been fixed. Of course obtaining all the right probiotics naturally from your diet alone will always be the best option but it is becoming harder and harder to do. Unlike other trends like raspberry ketones and south African mango there is a huge evidence base and research profile backing probiotic use. It is something I have personally seen benefit countless numbers of patients whose only complaint now is that they wish they had started sooner.
Our pharmacy provides a wide range of probiotics and all our staff are fully trained and available to help you make the right choice for your individual needs. I personally find the optibac range to be the most individually tailored. They have a course of probiotics available for everything from diarrhoea to women’s intimate flora. Other favourites of mine include Udo’s Choice, Immunebiotix (which has added immune booters) and Alflorex.
Drop into any Grant’s Pharmacy (we’ve been open since the start of this pandemic!) and safely find the best probiotic for your needs. Grant’s Pharmacy can also post out any of our products if you are cocooning – just ask. Grants Pharmacy, Wexford – 9123068, Enniscorthy – 9234025/9236456, Gorey – 9481031 and Arklow – 0402-20030. Find us on Facebook/IG. Stay safe and wash those hands!