Gerald Quigley, Pharmacist and Master Herbalist
Antibiotics have revolutionized medical treatment. Diseases which were once a death sentence were cured in a matter of days in some instances. It is understandable therefore that antibiotics are widely viewed as a miraculous cure-all. But in more recent years has come the understanding that antibiotics are not invincible, particularly with the rise of antibiotic-resistant diseases.
In fact, instead of getting rid of some of the bacteria in your body, scientists are examining the idea that you should install some friendly bacteria to set you on the way back to health. Probiotics is the antithesis of antibiotics. Instead of removing bacteria, it aims to add some. In a world where we spend much of our time ridding our homes and ourselves of germs, it seems perverse that we may need to add some germs back into our lives.
Our intestines host millions of bacteria, many of them playing an important role in our health. They help us digest food, stimulate our immune system and keep in check the growth of nastier bacteria that cause disease.
Keeping the right balance of bacteria in our gut helps keep us healthy. Probiotic foods contain live micro-organisms that occur naturally through fermentation, such as yoghurt. These days of course, the micro-organisms are often added intentionally. It is claimed that probiotics treat diarrhoea, block the effect of carcinogens and prime the immune system to fight tumours.
The scientific evidence on treating cancer with probiotics is very slim, but there is good evidence that probiotics can prevent and treat diarrhoea, particularly in children. Research is also showing that probiotics can treat and prevent respiratory infections in children.
More startling, a recent study of pregnant women who ate yoghurt with a specific type of bacteria halved the incidence of allergy and asthma in their children.
The other way of maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut is to eat prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are nutrients that the bacteria in your colon use as food. Dietary fibre and carbohydrates are not absorbed until late in the intestinal tract, when they reach the large intestine or colon, where most of our bacteria thrive. But to be a true prebiotic food it must also be the nutrients on which the limited number of beneficial bacteria grows, and is therefore able to rebalance the bacteria towards a healthier composition. The best prebiotics are those containing fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) including garlic, onion, artichokes and asparagus.
But the main problem is actually getting the probiotics. Not only do the micro-organisms have to be able to reach your lower intestinal tract, they initially have to have survived modern-day food processing techniques. It is questionable how many of these cultures still live in your yoghurt by the time you spoon it into your mouth.
Beneficial bacteria have the following health benefits:
- In the colon, beneficial bacteria may help to lower total serum cholesterol levels.
- The colon (lower intestine) relies on the epithelial cells for the production of short-chain saturated fatty acids by the fermentation of fibre and carbohydrates involving beneficial bacteria.
- Enhancement of the general health of the digestive system.
- Strengthen the immune system functions of the intestines.
- Reversal of intestinal permeability,
- Reduction of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
- Remission of the symptoms of ulcerative colitis.
- Treatment of urinary tract infections.
- Enhance the function of the immune system.
- Help the digestion of carbohydrates, especially polysaccharides.
- Help production in the intestine of biotin, choline, folic acid, inositol, para-aminobenzoic acid, vitamins B2, B5, B6 and K
The function of beneficial bacteria can be enhanced by:
- FOS which provides nourishment to most types of beneficial bacteria, since these living organisms require nutrition. FOS is NOT a source of nourishment for toxic bacteria.
- Garlic enhances the growth of some forms of beneficial bacteria within the body.
Certain ailments interfere with the body’s beneficial bacteria:
- The number of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract declines in tandem with the progression of the ageing process.
- Excessive stress causes the depletion of beneficial bacteria.
Speak to your healthcare practitioner for guidance as to the most appropriate support for your gut health.
– Gerald Quigley, Pharmacist and Master Herbalist