Probiotics - The Good Guys of the Bug World
With so much attention being focused on bad bugs, the bacteria and viruses that cause coughs, colds, flu, sore throats, sinus infections, thrush and many other illnesses, the good guys tend to be overlooked. But there are whole groups of bacteria which are not only beneficial to human health but essential for the maintenance of a healthy body. These good bacteria are known as probiotics.
Fermented foods go back to the desert Bedouin and camel's milk, the Eastern Europeans with sauerkraut and the Celts with their sourdough bread. In 1907 the Russian scientist Metchnikoff said it was eating yoghurt that made the Bulgarians the longest lived people in Europe.
YOUR GUT SHOULD CONTAIN A KILOGRAM OF PROBIOTIC BACTERIA - THAT'S MANY BILLIONS OF PROTECTIVE BUGS, MORE THAN THERE ARE PEOPLE ON THE PLANET.
According to Professors Glen Gibson and Jeremy Hamilton-Miller these good bugs live in the gut but poor diet, stress, alcohol, junk food and antibiotics all destroy them. This is bad news as they have the vital job of boosting resistance, improving digestion and protecting against some cancers.
IBS, chronic indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, recurrent thrush, chronic fatigue and M.E. are signs that your friendly bugs need a boost. All these symptoms need investigating, so see your GP, but start boosting your friendly bug quota straight away as it can't hurt and will help.
Antibiotics kill good bugs as well as bad so naturopaths advise probiotics from yoghurt and fermented milk drinks. Japanese studies show those eating miso soup every day - a good source of friendly bacteria - were a third less likely to get stomach cancer. Professor Macfarlane from Dundee used bacteria from healthy people to treat patients with ulcerative colitis. This is one of the worst of the inflammatory bowel diseases and their pain and diarrhoea soon stopped.
HEALTH TIP: WHENEVER YOU OR THE CHILDREN TAKE ANTIBIOTICS EAT LIVE YOGHURT AND YAKULT EVERY DAY TO PREVENT DIARRHOEA.
Most commercial yoghurts are made from pasteurized milk inoculated with beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus or bulgaricus, Bifidobacteria or Streptococcus thermophilus. Many, especially those with long sell by dates, are pasteurized again which kills the good bugs.
Live yoghurts preserve the probiotics which then make some B vitamins and help mineral absorption. Read the labels as many flavoured yoghurts contain sugar, sweeteners, and chemicals you wouldn't want. Choose plain yoghurt and add fresh fruit. If you're watching the fat use Total Fat Free Greek yoghurt, extra high in calcium, very low calories and as thick as cream.
For women with chronic thrush and cystitis, daily live yoghurt helps relieve symptoms and prevent repeated attacks.
HEALTH TIP: A STUDY OF 181 FACTORY WORKERS FOUND THOSE TAKING DAILY PROBIOTICS WERE 2.5 TIMES LESS LIKELY TO BE OFF SICK WITH COLDS, STOMACH BUGS OR OTHER ILLNESSES THAN THE WORKERS GIVEN A PLACEBO.
Fermented milk drinks provide different probiotics. 70 years ago Yakult was invented by Professor Shirota in Japan when he identified Lactobacillus casei Shirota. This survives stomach acid and lives lower down where it prevents bowel problems, diarrhoea and boosts natural immunity.
Yakult isn't yogurt - you need at least two strains of bacteria to call it that - but a caramelised fermented milk drink. One tiny 65ml pot contains 6 billion friendly bugs - take one every day. Find it next to the fresh milk in your supermarket.
Prebiotics are the essential food that all of the probiotic bacteria need in order to thrive. They're a special type of carbohydrate mostly found in soluble fibre. This is also the type of fibre that's most important for good digestion and bowel function. It occurs in oats, bananas, apples, pears, leeks, onions, asparagus and root vegetables like parsnips, beetroot, carrots and in both Jerusalem and Globe artichokes, which are especially rich in inulin. Though it is possible to buy these as prebiotic supplements, it's much better to get them from natural foods as they're all extremely valuable as sources of other important nutrients.
There are even wider benefits to be gained from all these friendly bacteria. A 3 month study in Germany showed those taking probiotics had better resistance to colds and flu - episodes being two days shorter and with milder symptoms than the placebo group. Even more important was the study reported in the Lancet in 2001 where pregnant women with a family history of allergies were given probiotics in the last weeks of pregnancy and the first six months of breastfeeding (bottle fed babies had it added to their formula). The babies getting the probiotics had only half the incidence of eczema.
However you get them, the good bugs are an essential part of a healthy life, so make sure you do all you can to feed and nurture these vital organisms that will help protect you against infections, bowel disease and even allergies.
Some of my books...
- Superfoods, Superjuices, Superhealth
- Eat Well Live Longer
- Superfood Pocketbook
(100 Top Foods for Health)
- The Omega 3 Cookbook
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