Foods and drinks rich in probiotics have burst onto supermarket shelves in recent years, but how many of us actually understand what they are and whether they can benefit our health?
What are probiotics?
In our gut there is both good and bad bacteria. Probiotics are the good type, hence their nickname ‘friendly bacteria’. We need probiotics to keep our intestinal linings healthy and aid the digestive process. They also support our immune system by helping to strengthen cells in the body.
If you’re feeling run down or suffering from gastro-intestinal problems, your levels of good and bad bacteria may be unbalanced. This is when your body’s natural supply could do with a boost.
Sources of probiotics
Probiotics are available in many everyday foods. Dairy products, such as yoghurt, milk and cheese are good sources if they are made with lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus (two types of probiotics). You can also buy probiotics-enriched yoghurt drinks. Other dietary sources of friendly bacteria include garlic, onions, salami, pickled fruit and vegetables and bananas. They’re also available in supplement form.
How can probiotics help your health?
There are numerous health benefits to be gained from including probiotics in your diet as they could help alleviate lactose intolerance, reduce acute diarrhoea, fight infection and reduce inflammation. A healthy level of friendly bacteria in the body could also help reduce your risk of recurring illness, relieve intestinal problems, such as gas and bloating, and possibly prevent irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotics are also thought to help people suffering from Crohn’s Disease and infections such as thrush.
Children could also benefit from probiotics, particularly those who suffer viral diarrhoea or diarrhoea associated with taking antibiotics. They could also be effective in children who suffer atopic dermatitis. Research shows significant adverse effects of probiotics are rare, and there are no known interactions with medications, but dosages vary on a product-by-product basis. Speak with your family GP to determine the best type and amount of probiotics for your child.
When should you take probiotics?
Given the array of health benefits that could be derived from probiotics, try to include sources of friendly bacteria in your diet on a regular basis. This will help maintain levels of good bacteria in your gut and act as a preventative measure to help keep infections, intestinal problems and poor immunity at bay.
What type of probiotics is best?
Probiotics are available in both food and supplement form. For people who suffer food intolerances, particularly those who are lactose intolerant, a supplement may be best. Many probiotics supplements are also suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you’re feeling unwell and suffering from some of the symptoms associated with low levels of friendly bacteria you may wish to consider taking a probiotics supplement to give your body that extra boost.