Probiotics, prebiotics : what are they, do you really need them and when should you take them?
Not all bugs are bad - and that's where probiotics, or 'good' bacteria, come in. Without them, your body would be unable to absorb vital nutrients or carry out its regular maintenance functions.
Probiotics help you digest food, while the presence in your gut of a range of good bacteria provides resilience to disease and ill health.
But they also have benefits beyond keeping your gut healthy - researchers are beginning to find links between the bacteria in your digestive system and your brain's development, as well as mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
4 smart food swaps to boost your digestion
Three reasons why you need a healthy gut:
Probiotics also help keep your immune system in good working order. When you're healthy, the ratio of good and bad bacteria is about 10:1. As you age, your bacterial diversity decreases and this can make you more prone to disease, and conditions such as obesity and IBS.
9 foods to boost your immunitySo it's important to support your system to ensure the good bacteria are fighting for your health. They should do this naturally, but sometimes things go wrong eg a change in diet, climate, stress, illness and certain medications such as antibiotics. These can all alter the balance within your digestive system, decreasing the amount of good bacteria and giving free rein to bad bacteria.
Diet has a direct impact on your gut flora; good bacteria thrive on fresh vegetables, whole grains and fermented foods like yoghurt. Garlic and green tea are also probiotic-friendly. Conversely, bad bacteria love animal fats, refined sugars and flours.
Reasons to cut your sugar intake
Antibiotics, however, are currently the greatest known threat to good bacteria: they act on bacteria indiscriminately, killing off the good at the same time as the bad. So if there's one time when you should most definitely be knocking back the probiotics, it's when or after you've been on a course of antibiotics. It can take four to eight weeks for your gut to repopulate.
When choosing a probiotic supplement, look for Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria and at least two or three other bacteria. DanActive, Activia, GoodBelly and Yakult are all brands to look out for, as well as probiotic snacks such as granola bars and chocolate bars and kombucha drinks. What are prebiotics?While probiotics are the good bacteria that help your gut function correctly, prebiotics are the dietary fibre that provides nutrition for probiotics. They pass through your gut without being digested but serve as food to your good bacteria.The standard diet is often too full of processed foods and sugars, and low in fibre, therefore lacking prebiotics and making it difficult for probiotics to function properly in our bodies.Common foods that contain prebiotics include: artichokes, bananas, barley, chicory, flax, garlic, oats, onions, soybeans, tofu, wheat.
Oats: a true superfood
Although you can get your prebiotics naturally, people who eat a diet high in processed foods, sugar and low in fibre are unlikely to be getting enough to stay in good health. In this case, a supplement can help.
Look for the following ingredients: inulin, oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), xylooligosaccharides (XOS), lactulose and polydextrose.
Find out more: Probiotics for Dummies by Dr Shekha K.Challa
Like us on facebook
Follow us on twitter
Other Hearst Magazines UK sites