Often when we think of the word
‘bacteria’, we think of infection and disease. However, not all bacteria are
harmful to our bodies. In fact, ‘good bacteria’ are increasingly being
researched and discussed in the health community for their potential to improve
health in a number of different ways.
Probiotics are live microbes that
deliver health benefits to our bodies. Probiotics are naturally found in
fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh and kombucha. However,
you can also buy probiotic supplements that contain specific strains of
bacteria that are selected for their health benefits.
Let’s talk about the specific ways
that probiotics may improve your health:
Many people are aware of the
connection between probiotics and gut health.
Probiotics may be useful for
bowel syndrome (IBS)
bowel disease (IBD)
diarrhoea (caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites), and
It’s common for doctors and
pharmacists to recommend a probiotic to follow your antibiotic course. This is
because while antibiotics work to kill the bacteria that cause infections, it
can also kill some of the ‘good’ bacteria that help support a healthy digestive
system. As a result, it’s relatively common to experience diarrhoea following a
course of antibiotics. There is lots of research that show that probiotics can help to prevent this.
However, it’s not just
antibiotic-associated diarrhoea that probiotics help with. They have been shown to reduce the severity and duration of viral diarrhoea, the risk
of traveller’s diarrhoea and even the incidence of diarrhoea in day-care
When it comes to IBS, probiotics have been shown to reduce overall symptoms including abdominal pain and bloating,
as well as improving bowel movement frequency and consistency in some IBS
If you suffer from IBS, speak to
your doctor or Capital Chemist pharmacist to find out which probiotic is right
Many people take probiotics for
general good health, which can help to support a healthy immune system.
However, some research indicates that probiotics may help to protect the body
against a number of conditions, including allergy, eczema, and viral
One particular study found that some strains of probiotics have the potential to reduce
the likelihood of catching a cold, and reduce the number of days with common
There is also evidence that demonstrates that giving certain probiotics to babies can
prevent allergic disease, with long-term reduction in the incidence in atopic
Taking a probiotic may help to support immune function and may be especially helpful in children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
In the past five to ten years,
there’s been a huge increase in the amount of research that’s being conducted
into how the gut and microbiome works. One of the most exciting and interesting
discovery was the connection between the gut and the brain, or what researchers
call the ‘gut-brain axis’. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but what we do know
is that there is strong evidence to suggest that the gut microbiota plays a
role in how the gut ‘talks’ to our nervous system, which involves regulating
brain chemistry and influencing the systems that help with how we react to stress
and anxiety, and even our memory.
A lot of the research that has
explored this connection, particularly in relation to how it might affect
conditions like depression and anxiety, has been done on rats — but it does suggest that maintaining a healthy gut through the use of diet and
probiotics may have benefits that could help to prevent or treat depression.
There are also a number of small studies that indicate probiotics may help to reduce the anxiety and
stress response and improve the mood of people experiencing moderate stress.
We also know that people who suffer
from chronic issues like IBS often experience stress as a result of their
symptoms, and may experience a better quality of life as their symptoms
Similar to the gut, the vagina also
has a microbiome that is home to trillions of microorganisms, including
bacteria. When the natural balance of bacteria changes because of stress,
antibiotics, skincare products or other factors, the result can be conditions
like bacterial vaginosis.
If you suspect that you have an
infection, your first step should be to speak to your GP, as treatment may
A probiotic can also help by
rebalancing the bacteria. One study compared two groups of women diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis:
some were given oral probiotics while others were given a placebo pill. After a
follow-up period, 61.5% of the women in the probiotic group had normal vaginal
microbiota, compared to 26.9% of the placebo group.
There are lots of different ways
that probiotics can help to maintain good health, with researchers continually
discovering more. It’s important to note that different strains of probiotics
are associated with different areas of health, so it’s important to talk to
your GP or pharmacist about which one may be right for you.