the microbiome

It seems in the last few months that there has been an explosion of media interest around our gut microbiome and how probiotics – good bacteria – influence our health. We now know that we have more bacteria in our body than anything else. From the microbes that influence our skin health and are our first line of defence against the bad bugs around us, through to our digestive tract, bladder, heart, even our brain, we are a walking talking bacteria factory. So it makes sense that clinical research would be focusing on which bacteria support health, and which need to be eliminated for optimum health and vitality in the human body.

Traditionally, cultures that had fermented foods in their diet on a daily basis seemed to experience better overall health and longevity. It was while studying these cultures to find their secrets that “probiotics” were discovered by Elie Metchnikoff at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, the scientific community has continued to grow the knowledge around these tiny, invisible to the naked eye, life supporting microbes.

Specific Strains of Probiotics

Modern research has found that specific bacteria strains are involved in differing areas of our health, and that thousands of strains exist, some with overlapping roles. Certain strains like Lactococcus lactis support healthy digestion so we have access to the life giving nutrients in our food, Bifidobacterium bifidum help us to produce vitamins, Lactobacillus helveticus helps to balance the quality of our bowel motions. A healthy immune response can be supported by good bacteria such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which has also been shown to support healthy skin. Our digestive tract starts with our mouth, and good bacteria such as Lactobacillus salivarius can support healthy gums. Probiotics have even been found to influence our brain chemistry and ultimately support brain health and healthy mood. Ongoing research is showing the symbiotic relationship between the gut flora and signals in parts of our brain- which could be promising for those in the search for an answer to Alzheimers.

In the past it was thought that high doses of probiotic strains was the answer to supporting good health, but we now understand that it is more down to introducing the specific strains for the issue at hand as to the end benefits for our health.

A Microflora Imbalance

Negative changes in the gut flora can lead to chronic diseases of the digestive tract, bad breath, urinary tract infections, lowered immunity, the expression of allergic symptoms and skin issues. Some strains of good bacteria have actions that include supporting the body to bring the gut flora back into balance. Bifidobacterium longum is an example of a probiotic that can help to conquer an overgrowth of bad bacteria, while Bifidobacterium bifidum can lower the pH in the large intestine to promote a healthy digestive environment for the good bacteria to flourish.

Documentaries like New Zealand Chef Simon Gault’s recent journey in “Why are we Fat” have experts talking about the importance of the gut flora on healthy weight management. The right probiotic species can support balanced blood sugar levels and healthy cholesterol levels.

Research into understanding what causes our good bacteria to go out of balance has revealed multiple possibilities, and usually it is a combination of factors that leave us requiring a probiotic top-up. It can start as early as the day we are born. A caesarean delivery, a fast entry into the world, or a water birth can mean we do not pick up the good bacteria from our mothers during the birthing process. Courses of anti-biotics can drastically reduce our gut flora and for some people it can take up to a year for the body to naturally recover, and in the mean-time our immunity is vulnerable. A tummy bug, a virus, poor diet, alcohol, smoking or stressful times can all play havoc with our bacterial balance. People with chronic digestive issues tend to suffer from low levels of good bacteria, though this can be a “chicken or the egg” scenario- which really came first?

Getting Enough Probiotics in the Diet

Going back to traditional forms of diets is a popular choice with those currently seeking a healthy lifestyle, as is eating wholefoods in preference to highly processed foods. The fibre from these healthy food choices supports bowel health and the growth of good bacteria. Including fermented food in your diet can be supportive for gut health, and if you have an ongoing health issue or need support to remedy a short term imbalance it would be worth investigating also taking a clinically researched probiotic supplement.

By Karin Spicer N.D.

TAPS No: PP1418

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