The Yogurt Cure: Probiotics Are Good for Our Digestion. But They Can Also Combat Flu, Allergies and Bad Breath

     

Most of us know something about the good bacteria (probiotics) in our stomachs, thanks to advertising.

Two million of us now consume them in the form of drinks, yogurts, powders and capsules.

Science has come to accept there is some truth in the enthusiastic claims made for probiotics that they help fight ‘bad’ bugs in your gut and improve intestinal health.

And now research suggests that probiotics could have benefits that extend beyond the gut, such as treating illnesses from type-1 diabetes to fibromyalgia.

There is also interest in preliminary research suggesting that probiotics might even be able to enhance weight loss.

Scientists are developing specific probiotics to prevent dental cavities, probiotic lozenges for sore throats, probiotic nasal sprays and probiotic deodorant sticks that deal with the bacteria that cause body odour.

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They’re talking about probiotic vaccines to treat inflammatory diseases and probiotic cleaning products for the home.

In her new book, Good Gut Bugs, leading nutritionist Kathryn Marsden presents a comprehensive analysis of the science of gut bacteria and the latest thinking about using probiotics to treat a wide variety of illnesses – not just to boost general well-being.

With more than 20 years of experience in treating patients, she has devised a unique guide to probiotics and how to use them to treat your ailment.

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SO WHAT ARE GUT BACTERIA?

There are varying levels of bacteria living all over and in our bodies – mostly in our intestines.

They are known as commensal bacteria, which under normal circumstances cause no harm. Some are useful (these are the good bugs) but others have the potential to be very harmful.

For example, the ‘superbug’ bacterium Clostridium difficile or the ulcer infector helicobacter pylori may live harmlessly within us, but can be the cause of serious illness if the gut environment gets out of balance and they multiply.

The good bacteria, sometimes called ‘friendly flora’, are on our side. These live micro-organisms improve the balance of the intestinal soup by depriving polluting and dangerous bacteria of food and inhibiting their growth.

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Left to their own devices they aid digestion and the absorption of nutrients (basically determining how well-nourished we are).

They also oil the wheels of peristalsis (the process by which food and wastes move through the system). They look after the mucus membranes in our body by stimulating the production of mucins (the proteins in mucus that lubricate and protect our ‘inside’ skin) and secreting nutrients that are used for tissue repair.

And they improve the balance of friendly flora in the urogenital area, reducing the risk of bladder or vaginal infections.

Bugs in the bowel help in the production of B vitamins – vital for the efficient running of our nervous system. however, our natural probiotic levels are easily damaged by factors such as poor diet, stress, alcohol, hormonal fluctuations, cigarettes, surgery and drugs.

Once the critical balance of good bacteria is impaired, bad bacteria waste no time in grabbing any opportunity to take over.

AM I LACKING GOOD BACTERIA?

If you have a problem with body odour, suffer with bloating/noxious wind or are plagued by fungal infections, then your bad bacteria are very likely taking control – but take the quiz at the bottom of the page to help you decide.

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HOW BAD BUGS COULD BE MAKING YOU ILL

Research suggests that many common ailments are linked to bad bacteria. here we reveal how:

BAD BREATH

Most body odours, such as bad breath, are caused by bad bacteria.

Malodour can be caused by rotting teeth, unhealthy gums, poor digestion, the ulcer bacteria helicobacter pylori or any number of other illnesses.

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But the biggest problem is the bacteria in our mouths that feed on the almost constant supply of food that comes their way.

Some people naturally have low numbers of bad (pathogenic) bacteria and far higher levels of protective bacteria in their mouths. Sadly, only two per cent of the population fall into this category and the rest of us have to work on rebalancing our bug population.

Treatment: As well as practising good dental hygiene, boost your good gut bugs by adding fermented milk products, such as live yogurt, to your diet.

Take a probiotic supplement regularly. There is good evidence it helps to regulate the growth of troublesome bacteria.

Such supplements work by reducing the risk of dental decay in children’s teeth, meaning that fewer adult cavities develop later in life and lessening the likelihood of mouth ulcers and other oral infections.

CONSTIPATION

A sluggish bowel is often the result of disturbed intestinal bacteria: you don’t have enough good gut bugs. If things are persistently foul smelling, the problem will almost always be a large bowel with too much bad bacteria and a lack of good bacteria.

Treatment: Improve your diet. Many people have far too little fibre in their diets, but there’s more to a healthy colon than bran breakfast cereals.

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May 28, 2010