The health benefits of probiotics explained
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The microflora in the gut is home to more than 500 different species of bacteria. This might seem like a disconcerting figure, but the majority of the bacteria are helpful in keeping pathogens at bay. Bacteria is also responsible for aiding digestion, absorbing nutrients, and contributing to immune function, Harvard Health confirmed. The health potential of taking probiotics is numerous, from helping with diarrhoea and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, to ulcerative colitis.
Irritable bowel syndrome
The Guts UK charity states that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is linked to:
- The nervous system in the gut and brain
- The emotional state
- The gut microbes
- The immune system of the gut.
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal bowel habits
- Wind, bloating and distension
- Pooing mucus
- Feeling tired, sick, backache and bladder symptoms
Warning – any of the following signs need to be checked out by a GP as soon as possible:
- A persistent change of bowel habit for four weeks or longer
- Passing blood from the back passage
- Unintentional and quick weight loss of more than four pounds
- Diarrhoea waking you from sleep
“The need to see a doctor is especially important if there is a family history of bowel disease (such as cancer, colitis or Crohn’s disease),” added Guts UK.
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Ulcerative colitis (UC)
UC is a disease of the rectum and colon (i.e. the large intestine) where inflammation can lead to ulcers.
Most doctors agree that UC is related to how patients react to the “friendly” bacteria in their gut.
Why the body reacts so badly to what would otherwise be considered harmless and helpful bacteria is still being researched.
Symptoms of UC:
- Bleeding from the back passage
- Pain in the abdomen
- Mucus on poo
- Sore eyes
- Painful joints
- Skin rashes
- Unexplained weight loss
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The severity of symptoms likely depends on how inflamed the colon is at the time.
Harvard Health added that probiotics could potentially treat or prevent:
- Crohn’s disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Recurrence of bladder cancer
The results of clinical trials are mixed, but several studies have shown that “probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn’s disease”.
The NHS stated that probiotics are thought to “restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut” when its been disrupted.
A disrupted microflora could be the result of an illness or treatment.
Probiotic supplements are considered safe to consume without causing any unpleasant side effects.
However, the NHS cautioned that probiotics are classified as food rather than medicines.
Thus, the way probiotics are regulated means you “can’t always be sure” that the bacteria are able to survive long enough to reach the gut.
Shop probiotic supplements at Superdrug.
The British Nutrition Foundation stated that survival rates vary between different strains.
However, once the live strain reaches the gut, it can “influence the composition and activity of the gut microflora”.
“You may find a particular type of probiotic helps with one problem,” said the NHS.
“But this doesn’t mean it’ll help other problems, or that other types of probiotic will work just as well.”
Shop digestive health supplements at Boots, Holland & Barrett.
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