Probiotic and antibiotics
What are Probiotics?
When I first came to know that probiotics are excellent for you, it was from a TV ad for New Biotics a probiotic supplement. The ad explained a very basic animation of ‘good bacteria’ travelling to the gut, followed by a magical light illuminating the stomach that indicated that all would be well. It wasn’t exactly clear how probiotics worked, but the simple explanation worked for many people. Probiotic products on supermarket shelves make up a market that is projected to be worth over 46.55 Billion USD by 2020.
But what exactly are probiotics?
The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. In order to be labeled a probiotic, scientific proof for the health benefit would have to be documented.”
This means that probiotics are only probiotics if we choose to take them into our body for health benefits, and even then, they can only be labelled probiotics if there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that if you eat or drink them there are health benefits.
That’s the way scientists talk about probiotics. The language is isolating and can alienate people – probiotics sound like something out of a lab, gross little creatures that noone in their right mind would want to ingest. When we reduce probiotics down to their components under a microscope, they’re not exactly appetising! But our ancestors have been taking probiotics for years! Live cultures such as yoghurt, kimchi, fermented drinks and foods … there is a long list of foods and drinks that people have been taking to ward off disease and feel better for hundreds of years. The idea is the same – if you can find good bacteria that can travel down to your gut and make you feel better, they’re called probiotics, and it’s a good idea to take them!
Why would you introduce a foreign, live micro-organism (probiotic) into your body on purpose?!
Well, here’s something weird and fascinating you might not know: A lot (most!) of your body is made up of other organisms. So why not add more? Especially if they’re shown to be good for you… Microscopic research of the healthy human body has shown that microbial cells outnumber human cells by about ten to one (Source: The Human Microbiome Project). What does this mean? If you’re a healthy human, which I hope you are, only 10-20% of you is actually human! The rest of ‘you’ is composed of microbial cells – friendly bacteria living in a delicate, harmonious balance with your body so you can walk, talk, eat and do all the other fun things you do to live your life healthily.
Scientists call the legions and legions of bacteria living harmoniously in our gut (and possibly providing health benefits we are only beginning to understand) the microbiome – which is a fancy way of saying that it’s practically another organism living in your body, with it’s own characteristics, behaviors, needs and effects on the body. It’s a little scary to think about it huh? But believe it or not, our beautiful, symbiotic relationship with bacteria is what keeps us alive. New Biotics is simply more bacteria that we’re choosing to add to the mix – and we choose them because we have seen all kinds of benefits from these particular bacteria once they reach the gut.
Are probiotics the same as antibiotics?
No – they’re very different. Resistance to antibiotics in bacteria that cause disease and infection has increased to dangerous levels. This is partly due to their over-use since they were found to be effective in battling disease many years ago.
My own Granny once told us a story from when she was a medical doctor during World War 2:
“With the first batches of penicillin in the world, we would administer a small dose to a wounded soldier with a terrible case of gangrene, and overnight it would be cured!”
This miraculous recovery was due to the fact that the bacteria causing gangrene had never come up against antibiotics before. Now, generations later, bacteria have had plenty of time to adapt and ridiculous levels of exposure to antibiotics due to over-prescription, the use of antibiotics in food, and many other ways that have reduced the effectiveness of antibiotics as medicine. We are losing the battle, and many people believe that it is time to consider preventative measures. Many now feel that probiotics can form part of the modern solution to combating bacterial disease and maintaining health as proven by many probiotic supplements like New Biotics.
It’s important to point out that while antibiotics are used against bacteria, probiotics are not taken in order to benefit any pre-existing bacteria in the gut. They’re actually micro-organisms (or as the Danone commercial called them, ‘good bacteria’) that we can swallow. All going well, these bacteria travel all the way through the digestive tract right down to the gut where they can do wonderful things for our body.
Probiotics are alive!
Probiotics are bacterial living micro-organisms that can benefit the gut.
Micro-organisms are living cells or colonies of cells that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. In order to make any real impact on our body, there needs to be quite a few of them… million or billions in fact.
Remarkably little is known about the balance of micro-organisms in our bodies. The National Institute of Health in the United States has begun gathering scientists to work on what they’re calling the ‘Human Microbiome Project’. There’s also a conference at Harvard Medical School in September 2016 to discuss similar themes- the gut microbiome and probiotics. This is so scientists can begin to understand better how all these single cell and multi-cellular organisms interact in a living body. We’ve been looking at these bacteria through a microscope for years, but what about when they’re all mixed up and moving around in a living, breathing human being? What we know already is that some bacteria can have serious benefits for the human being carrying them in their gut. These are the good bacteria I learned about from that TV commercial all those years ago.
What are probiotic supplements?
While probiotics can be ingested in a variety of ways, including in natural foodstuffs such as yoghurt or fermented drinks like kombucha, there are more reliable and effective ways to get those good bacteria all the way to your gut before they get burned up by your digestive system. The problem with things like probiotic yoghurt, and other natural foodstuffs containing probiotics, is that you can’t be entirely sure those good bacteria are making it all the way to your gut. In addition, while many commercial products will tell you the name and strain of the type of probiotic they contain, there is usually a lot of sugar and other ingredients present that can over-ride any potential benefits they might have. Probiotic supplements like New Biotics are produced in order to increase the chances of success when you take probiotics. They do this in a couple of ways:
- Increase the number of probiotic cells in every dose.This is measured according to ‘Colony Forming Units’ or CFUs. You will always see the number of CFUs printed on your bottle of probiotic supplements. By increasing the number of colonies that you’re putting in your body, the number of probiotic bacteria that successfully get to your gut alive (without getting burned by your digestive system) will also be higher
- Provide more resilient strains of probiotics. Probiotics have been developed that are heat resistant, making them more likely to travel down the to the gut without getting burned up in your belly. This way they can colonise the gut and do their work.
- Time delay. Many probiotic supplement producers make them so they only release the active probiotics into your system after enough time has passed for them to have travelled all the way to your gut. This is also an effective way for sensitive probiotic strains to bypass the cauldron of enzymes, bile and other chemicals that break down substances in your digestive system.
Probiotics: a modern way to combat disease and maintain health.
Increased awareness and a more holistic approach to human health has meant that probiotics are finally starting to get their time in the limelight. We are only at the beginning of truly understanding the benefits and multitude of applications probiotics can have “in the wild”.
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