Chances are, you think of yourself as an individual; a single human being. But in fact, you are a walking zoo, which is home to thousands of different species that all work together to make your body function. It is estimated that the number of bacteria in and on your body outnumbers the ‘human’ cells by between ten and a hundred to one, and you couldn’t live without them.
Most of these bacteria are ‘friendly’ and play a vital role in your everyday life, helping you to absorb vitamins and minerals, protect yourself from infection and release the energy your body needs. However, the balance of these bacteria, known as your microbiome, can easily be upset by things like disease, medicines and antibiotics, and even your diet and lifestyle.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are friendly bacteria that can help restore the balance of your microbiome when it has been disrupted. Research into probiotics and the microbiome is still in its infancy, but the results so far have been very exciting, showing promise for everything from IBS symptoms to traveller’s diarrhoea. It is even thought that the health of your gut microbiome may be important for your mental health.
How do probiotics work?
When your ‘good’ gut bacteria have been disrupted by an infection, or killed off by a course of antibiotics taken for an infection elsewhere, your digestive system will not work as well as it should. The inflammatory effects of the stress hormone cortisol can also disrupt the gut microbiome.
Disruption of the microbiome not only reduces the numbers of ‘good’ bacteria, it also creates ideal conditions for harmful bacteria to thrive, slowing down the regrowth of the good stuff. Probiotics act in three ways to help restore the balance:
- They take over the role of the depleted bacteria to help your gut function properly until they have regrown
- By maintaining gut function, they create a better environment for ‘good’ bacteria to regrow
- Some probiotics, such as Sacchromyces boulardii, actually attack the harmful bacteria
You could think of probiotics as a peacekeeping force, sent in to keep control and prevent things getting out of hand while the local forces regroup and recover from an attack.
Which probiotic should I take?
There are a huge number of different probiotics, and each works in a different way. For example:
- Bifidobacterium – supports your digestive system and reduces yeast and harmful bacterial over growth
- Lactobacillus – supports your digestive tract and helps with the absorption of minerals
- Sacchromyces boulardii – helps the gut recover after an infection, and even fights the bacteria causing the infection
It is important to remember that we are all different and so a probiotic that works for one person, may not work the same for someone else. Probiotics are not harmful in any way, so you can safely experiment with different types, with the help and advice of your ARCH therapist, until you find the right one for you and your condition.
What is the evidence for probiotics?
There is growing evidence for the use of probiotics for a range of conditions and research is expanding all the time. NHS Choices states that there is good evidence that probiotics given with broad spectrum antibiotics can greatly reduce the risk of getting a Clostridium difficile infection, while Lactobacillus rhamnosus can help children with gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus, and can also help people with traveller’s diarrhoea. It also states that probiotics can help with some symptoms of IBS.
Probiotics from your ARCH therapist
If you’re looking to try probiotics to support your digestive health, then your ARCH therapist is the ideal person to talk to. Many ARCH therapists are probiotic suppliers and can offer a range of products from reputable companies who are at the forefront of probiotic research. This means that they get training in how to prescribe probiotics, have the latest range of probiotics in stock and are kept right up to date with the latest developments in the industry.
If your ARCH therapist does not stock probiotics, they will be able to recommend someone who does, who can give you all the help and advice you need. Click here to find your local ARCH registered therapist.