How probiotics can help keep you strong when times are hard
ImmunityImmunity is very much at the front of our minds at the moment and live bacteria supplements could help support your immunity. A healthy immune system requires balance and control, for instance in distinguishing between foreign and self-cells. If the immune system is too low, we may be at risk of getting ill easily, however, if our immune system is too sensitive we may react to substances that don’t actually cause us harm (such as pollen). The majority of our immune system is located in the gut. Approximately 70% of our immune cells are located here. Live bacteria supplements work with us through a variety of mechanisms to ensure that our immunity is balanced and controlled appropriately. These mechanisms include the direct impact on potentially harmful microbes, taking up space on the gut lining, competing for nutrients, as well as creating an acidic environment, which is favourable to good gut health. A number of systematic reviews have found evidence that the average duration of respiratory illness episodes, the number of days of illness per person and the number of days absent from daycare/work/school are significantly reduced with live bacteria supplementation compared with placebo(2).
DigestionThe change in our daily routines and the possibility that we are not able to buy our usual shopping, might change our diets and therefore might affect our digestion, which is where we break down and absorb nutrients. These nutrients not only provide us with the energy we need to survive but also act as messengers, passing communications between different cells and organs of the body, allowing them to function optimally together. You could be eating the healthiest diet in the world, but if you’re not digesting your food and absorbing nutrients properly, you won’t gain the benefits. A variety of factors will determine whether we have adequate digestion, such as sufficient stomach acidity, how much we chew our food, the speed in which we eat, and the regularity of our bowel movements. These are a few ways in which we may improve our digestion.
Live bacteria may also provide a helping hand through balancing stomach acidity, improving the absorption of nutrients, promoting gut healing and supporting detoxification by regulating bowel movements. Another way to support healthy digestion is to eat foods which are high in dietary fibre and resistant starches, this will not only keep our bowel movements regular, helping to eliminate toxins from the body but will also feed the beneficial bacteria in our guts.Live bacteria supplements support the gut lining, helping us to absorb nutrients from our food. Therefore even if you're consuming a diet a little different to what you're used to, you can still be sure you're absorbing the most benefit.
Mental healthLiving through these changing times could also be posing a weight on our mental health and you may be experiencing low mood more frequently. Our microbiome (the mix of bacterial species within our gut) could influence our mood through the gut-brain axis - this is how the balance of bacteria in the gut may affect brain health and is an exciting and rapidly evolving area of research. It is a communication system between the gut and the brain, consisting of a number of pathways (neuronal, immune and hormonal), all of which may be influenced by our gut bacteria. The majority of signals (80%) originate from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve, compared to 20% of signals from the brain to the gut. The signals sent are influenced by the diversity and population of our gut bacteria, therefore if we keep our gut happy, it might promote a more positive outlook for our current situation. Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ and may boost our mood through the hormone serotonin. Live bacteria supplementation has also been shown to increase vitamin D levels and to improve mood in a number of studies(3), so even if you are not getting out in the sun as much as you would like, beneficial bacteria can provide some support. You could try a live yeast supplement, Bio-Kult S. Boulardii (RRP £14.99) which alongside its live microorganisms, also contains vitamin D3.
ExerciseYou might consider choosing to supplement a good dose of live bacteria if exercising has taken on some new forms for you. There have been some great adaptations available online to help us keep active whilst times are tough, and it’s well worth maintaining because of its further ability to boost good mood. If we’re trying new exercises that we might not be used to, it can sometimes leave us open to sore muscles and stiffness, known as 'delayed onset of muscle soreness' (DOMS). It’s a natural part of exercise recovery, however, it can be made easier to overcome by the addition of a healthy microbiome. Studies have suggested that live bacteria supplementation can aid in protein absorption and reduce recovery time as well as muscle soreness(4). Additionally, consuming good sources of fibre rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables can keep us fighting fit even if the gyms are closed, as they will help eliminate toxins and provide antioxidants.
All-round supportThese difficult times have thrown up some new challenges; it could be forcing you to prioritise your spending, whilst at the same time, attempting to stay as healthy as possible. Live bacteria could be a helpful all-round option if you’re looking to maximise the nutrition of your diet, improve absorption of food, and promote immune health, mood and energy.
- B vitamins are essential for energy so could help if we’re feeling sluggish, whilst cooped up at home and missing a daily routine. Our gut bacteria synthesise a range of B vitamins for us.
- Live bacteria supplements support the gut lining, helping us to absorb nutrients from our food. Therefore even if you’re consuming a diet a little different to what you’re used to, you can still be sure you’re absorbing the most benefit.
- Our immune cells have a surveillance system which monitors the environment of the gut. Maintaining a rich source of live bacteria might promote an appropriate response to invading microbes.
- The range of benefits that live bacteria provide could make it easier if food choice is limited. We used to consume fermented foods as part of our daily lifestyles as a natural form of food preservation. As we consumed our fermented foods, the live bacteria would make the food more digestible, increase the acidity, and temper our immune systems (live bacteria is therefore classed as having a symbiotic relationship with us, as it benefits both parties). If sourcing traditionally fermented foods is trickier in this time, we’re lucky enough to be able to choose between food and supplement and therefore obtain the benefits as conveniently as possible.
References 1. Khalesi S, Bellissimo N, Vandelanotte C, Williams S, Stanley D, Irwin C. A review of probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: helpful or hype? European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2018; 73: 24-37. 2. King S, Glanville J, Sanders ME, Fitzgerald A, Varley D. Effectiveness of probiotics on the duration of illness in healthy children and adults who develop common acute respiratory infectious conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr 2014; 112: 41–54. 3. Steenbergen L, Sellaro R, van Hemert S, Bosch JA, Colzato LS. A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of multispecies probiotics on cognitive reactivity to sad mood. Brain Behav Immun 2015;48:258–64. 4. Jäger R, Sheilds KA, Lowery RP et al. Probiotic Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 reduces exercise-induced muscle damage and increases recovery. Peer J 2016; 4: 1-14. 5. Kajander K, Krogius-Kurikka L, Rinttilä T, Karjalainen H, Palva A, Korpela R. Effects of multispecies probiotic supplementation on intestinal microbiota in irritable bowel syndrome. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2007; 26: 463-473.
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