The secret to a healthy belly
There’s been plenty of buzz about probiotics over the last few years, the latest health obsession thanks to their seemingly endless list of health benefits, so is the hype justified?
Well, in some cases yes!
So what are probiotics?
Probiotics are the beneficial, ‘good’ bacteria that live in your gut. Scientists have identified more than 500 different strains of bacteria, and it is the balance of this internal environment that is so important for optimal health.
In a healthy intestine, the friendly bacteria can reach 100 trillion, but bouts of illness, stress or poor diet can cause imbalances that, in turn, can trigger a host of problems.
It’s easy to be bamboozled by the health claims made for food supplements, and probiotics are no different. So what does the research say?
The most outstanding evidence of their beneficial effect is how they can prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD).
Without probiotics, antibiotics tend to wipe out the protective gut bacteria, which results in diarrhoea.
But there’s fairly good evidence that giving high doses of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Saccharomyces boulardii while taking a course of antibiotics can help prevent children developing AAD .
There’s also evidence to suggest they might help in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, and a complication of ulcerative colitis treatment. It is also thought that probiotics might help protect some premature babies from developing a dangerous gut disease.
So should I take them?
Well, they won’t do you any harm. And if you’ve had health issues, you definitely have nothing to lose.
What else do I need to know?
It’s worth noting that the different probiotic strains have completely different effects on the body. Don’t assume that the beneficial effects seen with one strain are the same as other similar strains.
And don’t be taken in by large numbers – too many strains may be counterproductive.
In general, it is good to take a number of different probiotic strains. A high-quality, multi-strain probiotic will contain a maximum of five or six different probiotic strains, rather than 20, because different probiotic strains have actually been shown to ‘cannibalise’ each other within the capsule!
Can I get probiotics from food?
Sort of. Many people eat yogurt because they’ve been told that it’s a good source of friendly bacteria. But most of the yogurt you buy in the supermarket has been pasteurised after being made (in order to increase its shelf life), and pasteurisation destroys all the benefits of the yogurt. So if you are choosing which yogurt to buy, make sure the label says “live, active cultures.”
For a tasty and easy way to optimise good bacteria, simply increase your intake of fermented foods (such as miso, tempeh, kim chi, sauerkraut and kefir). Why? Because these foods contain and deliver a wide variety of good bacteria to the gut, as opposed to processed foods that have the opposite effect.
What should I take?
Ireland’s been at the forefront of developments in gut health in recent times, particularly the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre based at University College Cork. Its new product, Alflorex, is now available in pharmacies across the country, costing €32.95 for a months’ supply. You can find a stockist near you by checking the website here.
It contains the BIFORTIF culture (B. infantis 35624), a precision strain that goes to work where needed. B. infantis 35624 is the No.1 probiotic recommended by Gastroenterologists in the U.S.
And if you’re looking to deal with a very specific complaint, then look no further than Optibac Probiotics, a family-run company that specialises in probiotics.
Recognising that different types of probiotics can have different beneficial effects on the body, it offers specific formulas to support particular health needs.
So whether you are after a flat stomach, taking a course of antibiotics, or looking to boost your daily immunity, it has a product that will suit.
Optibac is available in chemist and health food shops around the country with a month’s supply starting from €28 or you can order online here.