Today I am chatting about the benefits of probiotics. Having been in discussions with the team at Water for Health- a fountain of knowledge on the topic- I asked them to come on board and create this guest post, explaining how gut bacteria works and giving an overview of current research, as well as tips on using probiotics.
Not a day goes by, it seems, without one hearing about probiotics. Doctors, nutritionists, and gut experts are among those loudly chorusing the far-reaching benefits of good bacteria, provoking a sharp rise in the sale of ‘live culture’ supplements in both Europe and the US. Suffice to say, more attention than ever before is being paid to the complex workings of the microbiota.
It is not easy to say what ignited this explosion of interest in probiotics, and in digestive health more generally. What we can say with confidence is that the links between gut bacteria and good health are continuously exposed. In this blog, we will detail the latest research studies on the subject. More immediately, however, we should attempt to unpack what it means to have a ‘good gut’.
The Importance of Gut Health
Readers of this blog will be highly familiar with this subject of gut health. Nonetheless, a primer on gut health might be a good launchpad from which to tackle the more cutting-edge stuff.
The resident bacteria living within our intestines numbers over 100 trillion, of which there are around a thousand different species. These multifarious microbes help us digest food and assimilate nutrients, manufacture minerals, vitamins and neurochemicals, and also offer protection from disease by declaring war on infectious bacteria. These latter species enter our system via food and drink, but also due to toxins, lack of sleep and stress.
Of course, we have known about microbes for generations; but only in recent years have links been made between this vast array of microorganisms and immune response (70% of the body’s defences, after all, exist in the gut), weight management, allergic reaction, sleep, stress, ageing and mental health. Thanks to the growing mountain of research, the fundamental importance of normalising bacterial balance is becoming more widely understood.
The Best Books About Gut Health
There have been several excellent books published specifically on how our gut microbes work including…
- The Good Gut Guide by Liz Earle
- Giulia Enders’ Gut
- Dr. David Perlmutter’s Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life
The Role of Probiotics
Few readers of this blog will need to be spoon-fed a definition of probiotics, but for the layman, probiotics describe beneficial bacteria that can support the balance of the gut. Unlike the long-term bacterial residents that constitute our microbiota, think of probiotic bacteria as tourists transiting through the digestive tract, communicating with microbes and intestinal cells as they go. Far from leaving no trace of their existence, probiotics can have a tangible effect on your internal environment.
In sufficient number, probiotics can help us to maintain or regain immune health. In fact, according to Tom MacDonald, professor of immunology at the London School of Medicine, “Probiotics are the only immune-booster with real scientific grounding.”
What’s more, there is strong evidence to suggest probiotics can lessen the risk of bacterial infections, prevent the development of common digestive problems including IBS, bloating and diarrhoea, and evoke more regular bowel movements.
Probiotic Evidence: What the Studies Say
Reviewing all the evidence for probiotics goes far beyond this blog, but for the purposes of this article, let us assess the most recent data on the subject.
In March, we learned that taking a probiotic combination could reduce hay fever symptoms. The University of Florida study (more here) found that a dyad of bacteria – lactobacilli and bifidobacteria – would alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms by increasing the body’s percentage of regulatory T-cells, thereby increasing tolerance to hay fever. This finding bore out the results of a Finnish study from two years ago, which found that children taking Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Lactis BI-04 reported fewer runny noses and nasal blocking than their peers.
Also this year, we learned that prebiotics – which act as food for good bacteria – can improve sleep and buffer the physiological impact of stress. “We found that dietary prebiotics can improve non-REM sleep as well as REM sleep after a stressful event,” said Robert Thompson, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Fascinating stuff!
Another study out of China, completed late last year and published this March, showed that probiotics could delay the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by inhibiting the proliferation of harmful bacteria (more here). NAFLD – the most common cause of chronic liver disease – is typified by excess fat accumulation in the liver independent of alcohol use. The Chinese researchers discovered that both gut flora disorder and endotoxemia could be involved in the pathogenesis of NAFLD, and that probiotics could ameliorate loss of intestinal barrier integrity and also serum levels of inflammatory cytokines.
The apparent ability of synbiotics to control immune response to fatty liver and reduce levels of inflammation is certainly noteworthy. Particularly since there is no specific medication for NAFLD (lifestyle changes are generally advised).
One could peel back the layers of the Probiotic Onion all day long; suffice to say there’s a raft of studies one can review online. The prevailing wisdom is that gut health matters more than we once thought; that the microbiome is a driver of genetic expression; and that probiotics could be key.
Progurt: A Novel New Probiotic
Although there are many probiotic foods (sauerkraut, kefir, pickles, kimchee) and supplements that can help us cultivate a healthier gut, scientists are still working to decode the many mysteries of the microbiota. It is, to be clear, an ever-expanding field of medical research.
Sauerkraut is one of many forms of probiotic foods. Read my top tips on using it here.
The Human Microbiome Project perhaps said it best: “The majority of microbial species present in the human body have never been isolated, cultured or sequenced, typically due to the inability to reproduce necessary growth conditions in the lab. Therefore there are huge amounts of organismal and functional novelty still to be discovered.”
There are tons of supplements out there and we at Water for Health appreciate everybody is different; but let’s introduce ours and explain how it is, in our view, the best choice. Our new supplement hitting the market is Progurt. Developed by the International Probiotics Institute, it is a pharmaceutical-grade probiotic that contains 1 trillion CFU (Colony Forming Units) capability per sachet. This compared to the 10, 20 or 30 billion promised by the vast majority of current probiotics.
You see, Progurt’s strains are highly unique. Where other probiotics are derived from animals or plants, Progurt’s blend of Human Probiotic Isolates are identical to those found in a healthy human gut from birth. The International Probiotics Institute have brought ‘functional novelty’ to the mainstream by isolating microorganisms that are the very essence of immunity.
Unlike many other brands, Progurt’s clinically-tested formulation includes synergistic, missing and fragile strains. These comprise Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) and Bifidobacteria including beneficial strains of Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Bifidus and S. Thermophilus. Each has been specially chosen for its ability to colonise and replicate, while the sheer number of CFU ensures resistance to harsh stomach acid and bile.
The vegan-friendly supplement also offers single-dose convenience – all you have to do is disperse a sachet in water or freshly-pressed juice and drink. No refrigeration is required and you should notice a difference after just a few days.
How to Nourish a Healthy Gut
To nourish digestive health and rebalance gut flora, the steps one should take are simple. Eating an abundance of fruit and veg means we’re more likely to have a diverse bacteria – as does a mix of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Secondly, choose a supplement that contains good levels of beneficial bacteria. This is particularly important if:
- You have recently taken antibiotics
- You suffer from digestive problems
- You are pregnant, have just given birth or are breastfeeding
- You are lactose intolerant
- You are travelling internationally
For the best colonisation of probiotics, it is advisable to complement taking them with nutrients that will help to hydrate and mineralise the gut. This will improve their effectiveness.
Progurt is one of the highest-strength probiotics currently available. It is also one of very few products which delivers Human Probiotic Isolates tailored to the gut’s natural bacteria conditions.
However, we advise that you monitor the dosage you take carefully as probiotic supplements can sometimes alter our gut bacteria quickly and lead to temporary side effects – such as bloating and upset stomach. If you are prone to this, consider beginning at half dose. As Jenna always advises, please do consult and work with your doctor and dietician.