Despite the recent hype around probiotics, a recent survey by nutrition company Healthspan found that there is still a great deal of confusion around probiotics.
That’s why we have put together this guide.
1. They affect every part of your body
How can so many functions of the body depend on one part – our intestines? The collection of bacteria living in and on our body has been dubbed the ‘microbiome’ and consists of about 100 trillion bacterial cells, the highest concentration of which is in your gut.
In scientific circles, having a wide diversity of these bugs is being increasingly understood as essential to many aspects of health and it’s probiotic foods and supplements that help you get these healthy bacteria.
In 2014, a landmark study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation from New York University said: ‘The composition of the microbiome and its activities are involved in most, if not all, of the biological processes that constitute human health and disease.’ Other peer-reviewed studies have linked gut bacteria to immunity, skin health, Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS) and even autism.
2. Bad bacteria can make you fat
Many of us have a depleted microbiome, to begin with because we are eating a poor diet that’s high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and artificial sweeteners or antibiotics have wiped out some of our beneficial bacteria. In fact, just one course of antibiotics can leave your gut bacteria weaker for up to four years.
What does that mean for weight? If our microbiome doesn’t contain enough friendly species of bacteria we may extract more calories from the foods we do eat, leading to weight gain, whatever our diet. Moreover, bacteria interact with hormones in our guts that regulate appetite, such as leptin and ghrelin.
3. Bacteria can affect the brain too
An optimal bacteria balance is also fundamental to the functioning of the enteric nervous system – also known as the second brain – which is located in the gut.
This is responsible for producing chemicals that affect our mood (hence ‘gut feelings’) such as serotonin – 95 percent of which is produced in the bowels. It’s no surprise then that research is now linking the traditional dietary practice of fermenting foods (see below) to positive mental health.
When researchers at McMaster University in Canada replaced the gut bacteria of anxious mice with bacteria from more fearless mice, they found that anxiety levels in the first group reduced.
4. And the skin
Probiotics and friendly bacteria are now being put into creams and sprays to treat skin conditions such as eczema and acne.
There are about 100,000 bacteria per square centimeter on the surface of our skin and these are made up to 200-300 different types of bacteria.
People with healthy skin have higher levels of protective bacteria known as S. epidermis and S. hominis while those with eczema have higher levels of a bacteria called S. aureus associated with eczema, scientists have found.
Experts are now researching creams enriched with this healthy bacteria in the treatment of eczema with positive results.
In a study reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine, scientists isolated samples of the protective bacteria and mixed them into a cream that they then rubbed onto the arms of five volunteers with eczema. This then drastically reduced the levels of S. aureus in their skins.