What are probiotics and prebiotics?

We live in harmony with trillions of probiotic bacteria within our bodies, particularly in our gut. Some of these bacteria are unhealthy and some are healthy. It is important to get the right balance of both (a healthy microflora) as this helps with digestion and immunity. Probiotic bacteria are live organisms that can be ingested, either via certain foods or via nutritional supplements. Regular intake of probiotic bacteria is known to help restore or maintain the correct balance in our gut – hence the nick name “Healthy Bacteria”.

Several factors can disrupt the healthy balance of our microflora:

  • Antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Food poisoning or diarrhoea
  • Anti acids and other drugs
  • Viral infections
  • An episode of heavy alcohol intake
  • Heavy meats intake and poor diet
  • Stress

Many countries and cultures have realized the importance of healthy bacteria and include fermented foods, with large numbers of healthy bacteria, as a part of their natural balanced diet. The most well known of these include:

  • Live yogurt and aged cheeses
  • Kefir and kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso and Tempeh

In a supplement form, the bacteria which have been studied most, in scientific trials, are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and streptococcus and hence strains of these have been carefully selected to be amoung the 6 billion CFUs (colony forming units) in naturemedical probiotic formulation:

  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Lactobacillus helveticus
  • Streptococcus thermopiles

Prebiotics such as fructooligosaccharide, included in our blend is not a bacteria but a food which stimulates the growth of the healthy bacteria particularly the bifidobacteria species. They also protect the bacteria from the enzymes in the saliva and stomach so they can form the health colonies in the small bowel and colon. They have a low caloric value but have other potential health benefits by contributing to the soluble dietary fiber fraction of the diet. Two other nutrients are now thought to be prebiotics because they enhance the growth of probiotics these are dietary fibre ( from linseeds, fruit grains etc) and polyphenols (read more)

Safety issues of probiotic supplements

Probiotics are generally considered safe, they’re already present in a normal digestive system. There is a theoretical risk for people with impaired immune function but this has not been found in practice. In fact, patients given probiotics during capecitabine chemotherapy, which actually lowers immunity, actually had less diarrhoea and other GI side effects and no increased risk of infection. Nevertheless, they are probably best avoided after very intense high dose chemotherapy until the white blood cells start to rise and then they will likely to be helpful in restoring the gut microflora.

The main danger would be contaminated supply and hence it is very important to by probiotics from a reputable source. Be sure the ingredients are clearly marked on the label and familiar to you or your health provider. There’s no way to judge the safety of unidentified mixtures. Naturemedical probiotics produced by a long established, reputable UK manufacturer with a high quality assurance track record completely compliant with EU, UK and USA standards.


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