Probiotics benefits

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live micro-organisms (often bacteria) that are thought to have a positive effect on the health of the host organism (i.e. our bodies) and, in particular, digestive tract health. They are more commonly referred to as “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria.”

Most probiotics are bacteria similar to those naturally found in the gut, especially in those of breastfed infants (who have natural protection against many diseases). Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria are the most common types of microbes used in probiotic supplements, but certain yeasts and bacilli are also used.

Probiotics are commonly consumed as part of fermented foods with specially added active live cultures, such as in yoghurt, soy yoghurt fermented, unfermented milk, miso, tempeh and some juices and soy beverages or as dietary supplements. In probiotic foods and supplements, the bacteria may have been present originally or added during preparation.

Probiotics are not the same thing as prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of beneficial microorganisms already in people’s colons – in other words, provide food for the good bacteria. When probiotics and prebiotics are mixed together, they form a synbiotic.

Benefits of probiotics

The world is full of microorganisms and so are our bodies – in and on the skin, in the gut, and in other orifices. Friendly bacteria are crucial to proper development of the immune system, to protection against microorganisms that could cause disease and to the digestion and absorption of food and nutrients. Each person’s mix of bacteria varies. Interactions between a person and the microorganisms in their body, and among the microorganisms themselves, can be crucial to the person’s health and well-being.

Investigations into the benefits of probiotic therapies suggest a range of potentially beneficial uses.

Managing lactose intolerance
Some people use probiotics to ease symptoms of lactose intolerance, a condition in which the gut lacks the enzyme needed to digest large amounts of the major sugar in milk and which also causes gastrointestinal symptoms. As lactic acid bacteria actively convert lactose into lactic acid, ingestion of certain active strains may help lactose intolerant individuals tolerate more lactose than they would have otherwise.

Lowering cholesterol
Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of a range of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) in lowering serum cholesterol levels, presumably by breaking down bile in the gut, thus inhibiting its re-absorption (which enters the blood as cholesterol).

Lowering blood pressure
Clinical trials have indicated that consumption of milk fermented with various strains of LAB may result in reductions in blood pressure. It is thought that this is due to the ACE inhibitor-like peptides produced during fermentation.

Improving immune function and preventing infections
There are cells in the digestive tract connected with the immune system. One theory is that if you alter the microorganisms in a person’s intestinal tract (e.g. by introducing probiotic bacteria), you can affect the immune system’s defences.

A 2010 study suggested that the anecdotal benefits of probiotic therapies as beneficial for preventing secondary infections, a common complication of antibiotic therapy, may be because keeping the immune system primed by eating foods enhanced with “good” bacteria may help counteract the negative effects of sickness and antibiotics. It was thought that antibiotics may turn the immune system “off” while probiotics turns it back on “idle”, and more able to quickly react to new infections.

LAB foods and supplements have been shown to aid in the treatment and prevention of acute diarrhoea and in decreasing the severity and duration of rotavirus infections in children and travellers’ diarrhoea in adults.

Helicobacter pylori
LAB are also thought to aid in the treatment of Helicobacter pylori infections (which cause peptic ulcers) in adults, when used in combination with standard medical treatments.

Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea
Antibiotics kill friendly bacteria in the gut along with unfriendly bacteria. Probiotics are sometimes used to try to offset side effects from antibiotics like gas, cramping, or diarrhoea. Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD) results from an imbalance in the colonic microbiota caused by antibiotic therapy. Probiotic treatment can reduce the incidence and severity of AAD as indicated in several meta-analyses.

Reducing inflammation
LAB and supplements have been found to modulate inflammatory and hypersensitivity responses. Clinical studies suggest that they can prevent reoccurrences of inflammatory bowel disease in adults, as well as improve milk allergies.

Improving mineral absorption
It is thought that probiotic lactobacilli may help correct malabsorption of trace minerals, found particularly in those with diets high in phytate content from whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

Preventing harmful bacterial growth under stress
In a study done to see the effects of stress on intestinal flora, rats that were fed probiotics had little occurrence of harmful bacteria latched onto their intestines compared to rats that were fed sterile water.

Irritable bowel syndrome and colitis
Certain probiotics have been found to improve symptoms of IBS and to be safe in treating ulcerative colitis.

Managing urogenital health
Several in vitro studies have revealed probiotics’ potential in relieving urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.

Other facts about probiotics

Did you know:

  • There are 10x more bacteria in our gut than there are cells in our body and if you gathered together all of your gut bacteria they would weigh approximately 1 kg or 2.2 lb.
  • An imbalance in our gut bacteria can sometimes occur during times of stress.
  • In order to protect us from getting food poisoning, our bodies are designed to stop the bacteria that we eat from getting into our gut. This is one reason why our stomach is very acidic.
  • Probiotics are considered safe for people of all ages unless they have a condition that has harmed their immune system such as cancer or HIV. Specific advice should be sought from a doctor or dietician.

How do probiotics work?

When we consume probiotics they start to compete with bad bacteria and pathogens for space and for food – therefore evicting them from our gut. Probiotics also stimulate our own immune system to enable it to fight infections better, as well as help us to digest fibre from our diet and in doing so they produce acid compounds that keep the lining of our gut healthy.

“Unfriendly” microorganisms (such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi and parasites) can upset the balance of bacteria in our bodies. At the start of the 20th century, probiotics were thought to be beneficial to the host by improving its intestinal microbial balance, thus inhibiting pathogens and toxin producing bacteria. Today, specific health effects are being investigated and documented including alleviation of chronic intestinal inflammatory diseases, prevention and treatment of pathogen-induced diarrhoea, urogenital infections and atopic diseases.

Researchers are exploring whether probiotics could halt these unfriendly agents in the first place and/or suppress their growth and activity in conditions like:

  • infectious diarrhoea
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
  • infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium that causes most ulcers and many types of chronic stomach inflammation
  • tooth decay and periodontal disease
  • vaginal infections
  • stomach and respiratory infections that children acquire
  • skin infections
  • and many others.

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Exercise health benefits

Why is exercise important?

Regular exercise is important for everybody, not just those who are looking to lose weight.

Our bodies operate best when they are engaged in regular activity. Conversely, health issues tend to crop up with your lifestyle is largely sedentary. The body craves movement and exertion, and it actually needs these things in order to function properly, to avoid muscle wastage and weakening, and to promote strength, vitality and longevity.

As obesity rates continue to rise, and we are seeing a growing older population, a lifestyle that includes regular exercise is a necessity. Ideally, this should be introduced at an early age for maximum benefit.

The bottom line is is to avoid inactivity for long periods; even some exercise is better than none at all. In other words, exercise is the key to good health and it can help to prevent a number of preventable health problems.

How can exercise support health?

Although exercise clearly helps to improve the appearance of the body (for example through weight loss and toning), it is also has countless other benefits for health.

Resistance training is often seen as being only for men or gym fanatics. However, exercise can take many forms and doesn’t necessarily have to involve the gym. For example, there is yoga, walking, running, cycling, boxing and countless others.

The important point to bear in mind is that exercise (any exercise) has a number of health benefits, which can contribute to the longevity and quality of life.

In particular, it is beneficial for:

  • detoxification
  • healthy digestion
  • heart health
  • weight loss (including a healthy metabolism).

Exercise is also important for muscle and bone health, and has a key role to play in maintaining a robust immune system by, for example, stimulating the lymphatic system. It is widely believed that the lymphatic system is the body’s first line of defense against disease. Exercise also improves circulation, helping to bring new fuel and energy to every cell.

In considered so important by governments that, in both the USA and Europe, there are a number of national initiatives that call for physical activity and exercise to be standard elements of both disease prevention and medical treatment for all ages.

How does exercise promote weight loss?

One of the most common mistakes that people make when trying to lose weight (and likewise one of the biggest reasons for failure) is focussing all their efforts on changing their diet, without thinking about the essential role of increased levels of physical activity.

Ultimately, your weight is dependant on the balance between the number of calories consumed each day and the number of calories burned. The main way in which exercise can assist with weight loss is through the burning of additional calories. Both aerobic and weight bearing exercise can achieve this.

Dieting alone is not going to be enough to ensure you reach your ideal weight in a healthy way, especially for the long-term. In fact, a 2006 study (Weiss et al) undertaken by Saint Louis University compared the effects of exercise combined with dieting, versus diet alone in losing fat. Although both sets of participants lost weight, only those undertaking exercise maintained their strength and muscle mass and increased aerobic capacity. Those who dieted only, lost muscle mass, strength and aerobic capacity.

Research consistently shows that regular exercise, combined with a balanced diet, is the most efficient and healthy way to manage your weight. In particular, exercise can affect our metabolism – when we exercise and eat healthily, the metabolism has a tendency to speed up and burn off excess calories and fat that it would not otherwise do, during periods of inactivity.

Getting the most out of exercising

If you are new to regular exercise, it’s important to take it slow and, if necessary, consult your doctor, a personal trainer or other qualified health practitioner before implementing radical changes to your diet or starting a new exercise regime.

Similarly, there are a number of health supplements that can support healthy weight management, athletic performance and nutrient intake. Increasing your levels of exercise should be viewed as part of a wider initiative to improve your health, including improving your diet to ensure that your body is getting all the “fuel” it needs to operate optimally.

For example, slimmers often find that protein powders and meal shakes can be helpful, because not only can they provide a low calorie source of nutrients, but the high protein content is vital for maintaining and increasing muscle and bone mass, supporting energy levels, for tissue and cell repair, for keeping the immune system strong and for preventing fatigue. And if you can find a shake that is fortified with nutrients, all the better.

A number of studies have suggested that a high-protein diet combined with exercise can support the weight management process, enhance fat loss, boost metabolism, improve muscle tone and improve blood fat levels.

As protein can assist in the repair and growth of muscle, this tends to mean that more calories are burned each day. Higher-protein diets may also help people to gain better control over their appetites and calorie intake, help them to regulate their blood sugar levels and reduce cravings. When your heart beats faster and you breathe more rapidly, it helps to lower your blood sugar level (which is why exercise is even more important if you have diabetes).

Similarly, ensuring adequate vitamin and mineral intake is an important part of any weight management programme, to ensure that you are losing weight healthily. For instance, antioxidants (such as vitamin C) are important in preventing damage by free radicals, which can be released during detoxification processes.

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How to get healthy

Am I healthy?

Everyone needs to be healthy. There is not a single logical person on this planet who should not want to have a properly functioning body. A healthy body is more likely to lead to fewer illnesses and a longer life.

So how do you know if your body is healthy? And, if it’s not healthy, how can you get healthy?

Well the answer is simple…

If you are taking care of yourself properly, keeping your body nourished through optimum nutrition, hydrated through sufficient water consumption and strong through regular exercise, then you are more than likely maintaining a healthy body.

If you cannot honestly say that you are doing these things, find some quick and easy tips on how to nourish your body below.

Optimum nutrition

Obesity and excess weight are significant problems in the modern age – both for the person affected and for the NHS. Eating a poor diet (e.g. high in saturated fat, refined sugar, synthetic ingredients etc), comprised largely of ready-meals and other “fast” or convenience foods, is one of the most common ways in which you may be failing your health. Such foods are nutrient-poor, providing empty calories that not only fail to nourish your body, but can actually actively run you down. Many of the elements in these food types are “anti-nutrients”, meaning they can sap your body of nutrients, making you more unhealthy and more prone to illness.

The other side of the coin are those people who fail to eat enough (or at least enough of the right things) on a daily basis, because they fear putting on weight or are just short on time. It is not all about quantity; it is also about quality. Starving yourself is never the road to good health. Once again, this can lead to a body that is badly in need of nutrients. In reality, the best way to achieve a healthy body through optimum nutrition is to ensure that you are properly fuelled, with a good number of calories from nutrient-dense foods.

To achieve this, you actually need to eat a reasonable amount of food a day. Of course, depending on your body type, lifestyle and any health conditions, you may have to eat more or less of a particular food group or type. But the general rule of thumb is to eat three good meals a day, with a couple of healthy snacks in-between, to promote a healthy metabolism and prevent your body from going into “starvation mode” and clinging on to its fat reserves. In other words, by providing your body with the food (nutrients) it needs to function correctly, it will actually promote not only better immunity, higher energy levels and enhanced state of mind, but also healthy weight loss which will naturally follow.

Protein

One of the most important aspects of building a healthy body through optimum nutrition is ensuring a regular supply of quality protein – the nutrient that provides the building blocks of our bodies. Review your daily diet and consider if there is enough protein in it. What type of protein are you eating? All proteins are not equal. Animal sources, for example, the most common protein source, provide protein that is high in saturated fat. It can also be high in contaminants such as antibiotics, medication etc, that have been administered to the animal. Animal protein, does however, offer a source of complete protein – i.e. protein that contains all of the essential amino acids required by our bodies.

The key is to seek protein sources that are not only low in saturated fat, but are also high in dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, beneficial oils and digestive enzymes. Ideally, these sources should also provide a complete amino acid profile. From this perspective, fish and plant protein (foods such as legumes, hemp, wheatgrass, soy and rice) can offer some of the best sources. Plant-based sources of protein are not always complete and balanced, but you can achieve this through careful meal planning and ingredient combinations. Alternatively, you can supplement your diet with a high-quality, preferably organic, protein powder, for a reliable source of complete and balanced plant protein. And this way you don’t have to eat a mountain of vegetables to achieve the desired amount of protein every day!

By adding high-quality protein to your diet on a regular basis, you should have higher energy levels and a faster metabolism. If the source is plant-based, you will also benefit from the greater level of nutritional input in the form of phyto-nutrients, fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

Vitamins and minerals

This leads on to ensuring that your body is getting enough nutrients on a daily basis via all the other elements of your diet too. Coupled with regular exercise, doing so will be the best way to ensure a strong immune system. Vitamins and minerals, for example, are involved in every process in your body and so, ensuring appropriate intake will only naturally serve to enhance your health and vitality.

Eating a varied and well-balanced diet is the first and most obvious means of accessing vitamins and minerals. However, even the healthiest of foods no longer offer the nutritional content they once did (due to, for instance, intensive farming, long-distance food transportation, long shelf-lives etc). As such, to ensure the quality and range of nutrients you are consuming daily, you may wish to supplement your diet with vitamins and minerals in the form of capsules or food-based powders.

Body detox

Regular body detoxification can also be a useful means of achieving a healthier body. Surrounded by environmental and other pollutants everywhere we go, coupled with poor dietary habits, use of medication etc, toxins naturally build up in our bodies over time. In many cases, this may overwhelm our body’s natural detoxification systems (such as the liver), leading to the accumulation of toxins in our systems. By doing regular cleanse and detox programmes, and exercising, you can make sure that you are clearing out your body and lessening its load. So start eating foods that are rich in dietary fibre – a natural ‘broom and sponge’ for the intestines. Fibre-rich foods help “pick up” all the toxins and other unwanted matter that can build-up in the gut, sweeping it out of the body as it leaves. Cleanse and detox supplements can also support such programmes.

Once you know how to practice healthier ways of living, and are familiar with them, it becomes far easier to follow them. So start practising healthier eating habits to get yourself on the fastest road to a healthier you.

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