Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics – beneficial effects for the digestive system and the entire body!

We have recently celebrated the World Digestive System Health Day. I take this opportunity to introduce the beneficial effect of probiotic bacteria and their helpers, prebiotics, on human body.

I guess all of you have heard of the “good bacteria”, but what does that actually mean? These desirable micro-organisms, prebiotics, guarantee our health. They occur naturally in foods, they are also available in the form of dietary supplements. However, if a given bacterial strain is to be classified as a probiotic, it should meet many requirements including beneficial effect on human health specifically documented in broad clinical research.

Most of us know that probiotics should be taken as protection during antibiotic treatment. We should remember that replenishing microbial flora during the treatment is not long enough – good bacteria should be ingested for a month after therapy, as a minimum.

The healthy intestinal microflora, also known as microbiota, have serious influence on human health, including:

Functioning of the immunity system

– yes, as much as 70% of your immunity comes from your stomach. If your intestines do not work correctly, you are far more exposed to various illnesses including allergies, food intolerances, children’s atopic dermatitis, frequent infections of the upper respiratory tract, common cold, urinogenital tract infections and even autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis. Functioning of your digestive tract – prevalence of pathogens in your intestines leads to constipation, diarrhea, gastrointestinal inflammations, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis or debilitated digestion process.

Probiotics

Depression and neurodegenerative diseases

according to WHO, depression will be the second most frequent illness in the world by 2020. It seems that the so-called intestine-brain axis plays a key role here. Activation of proteins called cytokines at the moment of defects in the composition and inviolability of the gut flora is an extremely important mechanism in development of depression: cytokines boost inflammatory processes in the small intestine, which seems the major factor that influences endocrine modulation, thereby, the nervous system’s functions.

Supporting treatment of some cancers

– I believe that you should supplement your daily diet with probiotic bacteria in all cancer diseases, however, the ones most frequently cited in publications include colorectal cancers, urinary tract cancers and genital cancers.

Probiotic

Developing children’s health

– the first three years of life are key to colonization of a child’s digestive system with probiotic bacteria. It is the parents who choose what their child eats, drinks and how hygienic environment it is brought up in, which determines its health for years. This is how we promote colonization of good or bad bacteria in the intestines. Even the birth method is significant. Children delivered by natural birth and breastfed receive good bacteria from their mums, not from the hospital environment. Newborns born by caesarian section should be given supplementary prebiotics. This increases the chance to avoid future allergies and autoimmune diseases. Microbiota of a six-year-old is similar to one of an adult. Analyses indicate that only children and children brought up in cities are much more prone to allergies.

The rate of excess weight and obesity increases

– it is known that obese people have much more pathogenic bacteria in their digestive systems than people with correct body weight. Moreover, a test on mice has shown that transplanting correct microbiota itself – without changing lifestyle and diet – led to loss of weight. Care for balanced microbiota in case of people wishing to reduce their body weight is very important – eg Lactobacillus rhamnosus PL60 might be very helpful in fighting obesity.

Correct blood cholesterol level

this should not need special explanation.

The prebiotics should not be confused with probiotics as they are not bacteria. They are undigested substances found in the digestive tract. They are a breeding ground for good probiotic bacteria in your intestines. Similarly to probiotics, prebiotics need to meet certain requirements: decrease pH of the intestinal content, be resistant to digestive enzymes and not become absorbed in the digestive tract.
The role of prebiotics in your body is very important, although they are frequently confused with dietary fibre. As a matter of fact, prebiotics belong to fibres, but not all fibres are prebiotics. Inulin is a perfect prebiotics – I have written about its properties here (WS: trzeba podac link do artykułu o inulinie). Prebiotics are extremely important to correct functioning of the digestive system and, thereby, the immune system as they support:

  • restoring microbiota balance – for instance, after antibiotic treatment – prebiotics are better colonised in the intestine,
  • curing constipation and preventing diarrhoea,
  • absorption of minerals,
  • decreasing blood LDL cholesterol levels,
  • decreasing the risk of bowel cancer.

Intestine microbiota is constantly damaged by inappropriate diet, antibiotics, other medicines, stress, excess physical activity, or if our living environment is too sterile. Due to this, and to the meaning of correct microflora in your health, I believe probiotics and prebiotics – along with vitamin D – belong to the most important dietary supplements.

Recommended by Aneta Korzeniecka, nutritionist