Probiotics, or ‘friendly bacteria’, are live microorganisms, which when consumed in adequate amounts, are thought to confer health benefits on the human body. Taking a daily probiotic supplement could not only help with your digestion, but could also spark off other feel-good factors, such as good skin health, immunity and wellbeing.
Probiotics are key to the digestive system. They help the body to produce digestive enzymes (such as lactase) which breakdown certain food substances (in this case, lactose, found in dairy products.) This is why topping up your levels of probiotics on a daily basis can help with food intolerances.
Probiotics support the digestive system, and various research has shown that these microorganisms can help to encourage bowel regularity, and discourage digestive disorders or conditions such as diarrhoea (1,2), bloating (3) , or constipation(4,5).
Probiotics are thought to support the immune system thanks to the ‘barrier effect’. A high quality probiotic is tested for its ability to bind to cells on the gut wall lining. When you supplement with plenty of probiotics they begin to coat your gut wall, taking up space on this lining. This means that when pathogens (harmful microorganisms) enter the body, they reach the gut and have fewer points on the gut wall upon which they can adhere. It’s effectively a competition for space, between the good guys and the bad! The more good guys (probiotics) you have lining your gut wall, the fewer bad guys (pathogens) you should have in turn. This is known as the barrier effect; taking a daily probiotic can support this process.
Probiotics also improve the absorption of vitamins and minerals into the bloodstream. After all there’s no use taking lots of vitamins if your body is not absorbing them. This improved vitamin uptake provides essential support for the immune system, and what’s more, means that a probiotic nicely complements any other daily supplements you may take.
Probiotics are also thought to help support healthy skin, as often acne or spots are caused by bad bacteria, or toxins in the body. Supporting your gut with friendly bacteria means that the body will digest foods more efficiently (producing fewer toxins in the first place) and what’s more, probiotics help to displace toxins or bad bacteria in the gut (through various mechanisms, including the barrier effect mentioned above.) Probiotics have even been shown to help with atopic allergies such as eczema (6). Supporting your gut health from the inside should hopefully see you benefiting on the outside too.
Frequency of Use
Some specific probiotics can be effectively taken as a ‘one-off’ treatment, for example Saccharomyces boulardii to support gut health in those suffering from diarrhoea. However if you’re taking probiotics for general support to your digestion, immunity, energy & skin, best to take them every day for at least a few months; giving your gut time to top up its friendly bacteria levels. Many people safely and happily take probiotics on an ongoing basis for years.
1. McFarland, L.V. & Bernasconi, P. (1993) Saccharomyces boulardii: A Review of an Innovative Biotherapeutic Agent. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease; Vol. 6 pp. 157-171.
2. Hochter, W. et al (1990) Saccharomyces boulardii in acute adult diarrhea. Efficacy and tolerance of treatment. Munchener Medizinische Wochenschrift; Vol. 132 (12) pp. 188-192
3. Paineau, D. (2007) Regular consumption of short-chain fructo-oligosachharides improves digestive comfort with minor functional bowel disorders. Br. J. Nutr. Aug 13:1-8 [Epub ahead of print]
4. Matsumoto, M. et al. (2001) Effect of Yoghurt with Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12® in Improving Fecal Microflora and Defecation of Healthy Volunteers. Journal of Intestinal Microbiology; 14(2): pp. 97-102
5. Pitkala, K.H et al. (2007) Fermented cereal with specific bifidobacteria normalizes bowel movements in elderly nursing home residents. A randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Nutritional Health and Aging; 11(4): pp.305-311.
6. Isolauri, E., et al., Probiotics in the management of atopic eczema. Clin Exp Allergy, 2000. 30(11): p. 1604-10.