What do you know about the health benefits of probiotics? By Li Yuling.
Bacteria. Chances are the first thing you thought of when you read “bacteria” was along the lines of diseases or viruses (read: the bad stuff). But there is something as “good” or “helpful” bacteria – probiotics. Here’s what else you should know about probiotics.
1. Good bacteria come from your mum
If yours was a natural birth, that is. “The first wave of microbes that colonise a baby’s intestinal tract comes from the mother’s birth canal, and this is usually made up of beneficial bacteria,” says Lee Yuan Kun, an associate professor of microbiology from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore. A baby delivered through caesarean section does not come in contact with these “good” bacteria. He adds: “Unfortunately, if those reaching the baby’s digestive tract from the environment consist of harmful microbes, the child may suffer illnesses.”
2. Probiotics boost your immunity
By competing with and overwhelming other microbes, good bacteria keep you from falling victim to diseases like diarrhoea. They can also speed up recovery from infections and strengthen your resistance. What’s more, they also lower the body’s over-reactive responses, which cause diseases such as rashes, asthma and food allergies, adds Prof Lee. Trouble happens when “bad” bacteria outnumber the good.
3. Antibiotics kill the good along with the bad
The meds prescribed for your sore throat don’t just zap the infection-causing bacteria – they annihilate the good ones in your gut too. According to Assoc Prof Lee, this opens up the intestinal tract to easy colonisation by other microbes. That’s why antibiotics should be avoided when possible.
4. Stress affects your body’s balance of bacteria
When all is well, your body runs like a well-oiled machine. But stress – physical or mental – can upset your gut’s balance of microbes, says Assoc Prof Lee. Even a temporary change in your diet due to overseas travel can alter this balance, he adds. Some studies also show that women may suffer intestinal tract disturbances during menstruation. This could possibly explain why you sometimes get the runs during your period!
5. Probiotics can prevent cancer
“Clinical studies show that consumption of probiotics reduces the incidence of colorectal cancer – the top cancer in Singapore – and recurrent bladder cancer,” says Assoc Prof Lee. “Some of our intestinal microbes transform food components (of protein and fat, for instance) into carcinogens, or cancer causing agents.” Probiotics help by getting rid of the harmful microbes that trigger this change, he explains.
6. Eating fermented foods can boost your health
Stay in the pink of health by caring for your digestive tract. This is particularly pertinent to those who lead a stressful, fast-paced lifestyle. If you fall sick often, consider supplementing your diet with probiotics as your body is more vulnerable to infection during the time it takes to recover. That’s when you could do with more gut-friendly bacteria. Sources of probiotics include fermented foods and cultured milks such as Yakult, which contains Lactobacillus casei Shirota, a well-researched strain of bacteria that destroy the harmful ones living in the intestines.