Friends with Benefits

Forget social media—you have billions of buddies already, and they’re helping to keep you healthy!

BY Dr. Nigel Plummer, PhD and Medical Advisor to Genestra Brands

In a world that revolves around texting, swiping, Tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking, we are in constant contact with others. However, we often aren’t aware of everything our own bodies do to keep us healthy, moving and alert. Despite what your Instagram or Twitter following may be, did you know each of us has an inherent 100,000 billion bacterial “friends” living in and on our bodies? Believe it or not, there are an astonishing number of bacteria required for our bodies to function properly—in fact, more bacteria live in and on us than our very own cells.

Your stomach and intestines, commonly referred to as your “gut,” contain billions of bacteria. Combined, they weigh about 1.5kg—about as much as your liver! All of these bacterial microorganisms work together to create an environment called the “microbiome.” Each microbiome is unique, but their duties are the same: to support gastrointestinal health, prevent the development of allergies, support mood and maintain proper immune function. It has even been found that a healthy microbiome may play a role in one’s risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and mental health.

Knowing that the microbiome has a great impact on your overall health, it’s necessary to ensure that your microbiome is flourishing. The microbiome can sometimes be a sensitive friend, one that becomes upset and disrupted by a variety of factors, including diet, lifestyle choices, and antibiotic use. Your microbiome may need some attention if you are experiencing abdominal discomfort, bloating, or irregular bowel habits.

So, what happens if we upset our bacterial friends? In order to keep our delicate microbiome in tip-top shape, probiotics can be a great resource. Probiotics are microorganisms that can be found in fermented foods, like yogurt, or in supplement form. When ingested, probiotics replace the good bacteria that have been lost, which restores balance in the gut.

Hundreds of clinical studies have shown that probiotics have positive effects on health ranging. Some benefits include the reduction of allergies in newborns, winter colds in children, and IBS symptoms. This promising and exciting research gives us even more reason to harness the powers of probiotics for use across a range of conditions. At the very least, a probiotic regimen could be used alongside every course of antibiotics, and are essential for anyone suffering from symptoms of IBS. Parents should also consider giving their children probiotics, as one study showed a 30 per cent reduction in absenteeism from school in children who took these supplements.

Now that you know how important probiotics are for overall health, how do you know which probiotic is the best for you? Here are a few tips on how to best pick your probiotic buddies:
❯ Look for evidence of effect. For example, when reading the product label, look for probiotics that contain bacterial strains associated with the therapeutic effects you desire. Different strains can be used to manage different symptoms, from IBS to immunity. Two of the most dominant genera that provide a variety of health benefits are lactobacillus and bifidophilus, which are the most reliable—and easy to find—probiotics.
❯ Choose a probiotic that contains at least 10 to 25 billion CFU (colony forming units).
❯ Keep prebiotics, such as inulin or chicory root, in mind; prebiotics are essentially what probiotics need to survive and thrive in our bodies.
❯ Pick a probiotic that fits in with your habits. Some probiotics are stable when kept at room temperature, while others need refrigeration. If you plan to travel with your probiotics or take them on the go, make sure they are shelf-stable.
❯ Third party verification of your probiotic ensures the product has been inspected for purity and quality, and that it contains what the manufacturer states.
We are only just beginning to learn about our trillions of wonderful microbial partners and the great job they do. Just like they are with us for the entirety of our lives, probiotics should be, too: this bright new category of supplements is quickly becoming the new “daily vitamin” of the 21st century.