Scientific research over the last decade has revealed the vital role that the bacteria in your gut play in both digestive and immune health, having an impact on problems as diverse as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, diarrhoea, susceptibility to infection, the absorption of minerals, and even cancer. Therefore measures which can have a positive effect on our gut microflora (bacteria) are of increasing interest to a health conscious public.
Your digestive system is home to trillions of bacteria, some ‘good’ some ‘bad’. Those which work to promote digestion and better absorption of nutrients from your food are often referred to ‘good’ or friendly bacteria. Other less helpful or bad bacteria can produce toxins which are harmful to the body and can cause digestive problems.
In fact research has now shown that having an ‘imbalance’ between good and bad bacteria in your gut is associated with a number of digestive health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colon cancer and gastroenteritis.
Maintaining a healthy ‘bacterial balance’ is therefore essential to our health; however it can be easily upset by various factors. For instance, changes to diet and eating patterns, and the use of antibiotics can have a harmful effect on the balance of the good bacteria in the gut. These can upset the delicate balance away from potentially beneficial or health-promoting bacteria such as the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, towards an increase in the harmful micro-organisms.
There are also other reasons why this imbalance may occur including:
And it’s not just the gut itself that can be affected by a balance in our microflora. Very few of us are aware that more than 60% of our immune health is centred in our gut. The gut is an important defence system as the resident good bacteria protect against invading bad bacteria. Thus, maintaining a healthy number of good intestinal bacteria is essential for the protection mechanism to work optimally.
Many foods and supplements are now available which contain probiotics and prebiotics some of which, scientific studies have shown can help to support digestive and immune health. What are the facts and what is best?
In this video, Professor Glenn Gibson, an expert in food microbiology explains the importance gut bacteria play in our health and recent exciting developments in the area of prebiotics.