Probiotics are live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, which when taken in large enough quantities, help improve and maintain the health of your gastro-intestinal tract. Ever wondered what the fuss is about?
Prebiotics are different from probiotics. Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre that help feed and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in digestive system.
Examples of foods containing prebiotics are onions, garlic, asparagus and artichokes. Fermented dairy products have been advertised as containing “beneficial cultures.” Other foods currently claiming to provide probiotics are cereal, juice, frozen yogurt, granola, candy bars, and cookies. While they may contain probiotics, there is no guarantee that they have them in the amount or in the form that is necessary to get the health benefits you are looking for.
Advocates say probiotics increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut, with the added benefit of improving the lining and health of the gastro- intestinal tract and in turn, the immune system. Why the immune system? Well, let’s face it, the intestinal tract is the front line of defence against potentially harmful pathogens when we eat food and what the body may regard as a foreign substance every day in our diets.
You only have to head to your nearest chemist, supermarket or health food store to find probiotics, which may come as tablets, powders, drinks and yoghurt. Most of these contain bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, that already live in your gut and help keep you healthy and digesting food; some may also include the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.
For some health conditions, such as diarrhoea and particularly antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, there is clear evidence of a benefit from over-the-counter probiotics. A 2010 Cochrane review of 63 studies examining the use of probiotics in more than 8000 people – most of whom were children – with infectious diarrhoea found those who took probiotics were generally sick for a shorter period and without any adverse effects. The most common probiotics used were L. casei strain, S. boulardii Enterococcus lactic acid bacteria. Probiotics have also been found to prevent the bouts of diarrhoea that affect up to one in four people taking antibiotics.
Faecal transplants – seriously!
A wild type of bacteria that has come from the human gut itself, a healthy human gut, that is, is one that you won’t find in your neighbourhood chemist. Faecal bacteriotherapy or facecal transplants can also be called “yellow soup”.
“It’s probably the only real probiotic, except it’s got the ‘ick’ factor, but it has been done since the fourth century,” says gastroenterologist Professor Thomas Borody, director of the Centre for Digestive Diseases in Sydney.
Oral probiotics also contain doses of bacteria that are around 3-4 orders of magnitude lower than the estimated 100 trillion individual microorganisms found in the gut.
“So we’re using total flora from a donor to put into a recipient, for example, to kill Clostridium difficile, and that has a near 100 per cent success rate.”
Is your gut feeling “Yellow soup” to be the new probiotic?
Something to Ponder About