Probiotics: A Matter of Life and Health

The health world is full of fads- but one trend with scientifically proven results is the field of probiotics. These powerful bacteria are able to nourish our gut, brain and immunity all in one go.

But for those of you wondering what these bacteria are and if we really need them, we’ll explain.

What are probiotics?

Our bodies contain a complex ecosystem of bacteria. Some are friendly, some neutral and some harmful.

Probiotics are the good bacteria – they reside primarily in your gut, but also live on your skin, in your urogenital system and other mucosal membranes like your nose.

Probiotics maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in the body. In fact, they even help fight off some of the bad bacteria.

Your gut

Your gut, or digestive tract, is 9 metres in length and contains over 500 species of bacteria. The bacteria in your gut weighs in at a mighty 2 kilograms!

It might seem odd (and a little grim) to have so much bacteria in our bodies – but these micro-organisms are completely natural and essential for our body’s function.

Probiotic strains like Bifidobacteria are passed from mother to child during birth and breastfeeding. This helps colonise the baby’s gut with good bacteria while establishing a strong immune system.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t have enough of these good bacteria! Around 40% of people in Hong Kong have significant dysbiosis – elevated levels of bad bacteria in the gut when compared to good bacteria.

Symptoms of dysbiosis

Symptoms of dysbiosis are wide ranging. They can affect your digestion, causing constipation, diarrhoea, pain or bloating.

They can affect your mental health, causing low mood, stress, fatigue and problems with sleep.

Dysbiosis can also cause low immunity, bad breath, food intolerances, sore joints, pimples, heartburn, rashes and more.

Do these symptoms sound familiar? If so, you may want to test for dysbiosis. Our naturopaths can recommend the correct tests and create a treatment plan to correct an imbalanced gut.

What causes dysbiosis?

Antibiotics, though essential for some conditions, wipe out the good bacteria in your gut as well as the bad. That’s why it’s essential to take a probiotic during and after a course. Make sure you find the right probiotic, as not all are designed to withstand the effects of antibiotics.

Modern diets are a key cause for dysbiosis. Refined carbohydrates like white bread, processed meats, dairy and foods high in sugar or fat can all disrupt the delicate balance of our gut microbiome.

Chronic stress is another culprit. What’s worse is stress can cause intestinal permeability, allowing toxins and bad bacteria to enter the body, causing more health problems.

Chlorine in tap water, laxatives, oral contraceptives, radiation and chemotherapy can also all alter the microbiome environment of our gut.

Digestion and immunity

The majority of probiotics found in our bodies reside in our gut, and support digestion.

Good bacteria nourish the cells of our intestines, produce important enzymes and help break down food, boosting nutrient absorption from food.

Probiotics also support bowel movements and aid the body in producing B vitamins and vitamin K which are integral to immune function.

Probiotics further strengthen immunity by nourishing the gut: where 70% of our immune system resides. Another factor for a healthy immunity is the functioning of the gut lining, which probiotics maintain.

The good bacteria in our gut interact with immune cells to maintain balance in the immune system – which is compromised when it’s over stimulated or under stimulated. They also help produce antibodies and proteins for better immunity.

Gut / brain axis

Did you know that your gut and brain communicate via your vagus nerve? There’s a reason why when you feel stressed, it’s common to experience gut discomfort.

The brain influences the activity of the intestines, including immune function. Likewise, the gut influences the brain, affecting moods, cognition, emotional regulation and mental health. [1]

Research shows that anxiety and depression have clear links to gastrointestinal problems. Similarly, gut conditions like dysbiosis often exist alongside psychological conditions.

Probiotics support production of feelgood neurotransmitters like GABA, which reduce stress and improve mood. As well as having natural sleep-inducing qualities, GABA supports sweet dreams by relieving our stress.

Increasing the numbers of good bacteria in your gut can improve your mood – especially if you experience digestive symptoms which may indicate dysbiosis.

Other uses

Research shows that probiotics are able to support heart health, lowering levels of bad cholesterol and blood pressure.

Good bacteria influence skin health, as an imbalanced gut microbiome has been linked with dry skin conditions as well as pimples.

Probiotics also offer antioxidant benefits and support detox by improving liver enzyme levels.

In summary

Our gut has a powerful voice when it comes to how healthy we are, so if our gut is out of balance, it’s likely the rest of our health is too.

You can boost your good bacteria with natural sources of probiotics, found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee and natto. Cultured dairy products like yoghurt, kefir and buttermilk are rich in probiotics. Probiotic supplements offer an alternative source of good bacteria.

[1] J Appleton, The Gut-Brain Axis: influence of microbiota on mood and mental health, 2018

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