Benefits of Probiotics: The Role of Good Bacteria in Your Health and Wellbeing

Did you know there are good bacteria in your intestines? By utilising the benefits of probiotics, you can help the good bacteria grow and improve your health.

A partial view of a woman holding her stomach

You must have heard of probiotics before. But do you know about the benefits of probiotics? Or that it is different from prebiotics? Most importantly, do you know what probiotics are?

To understand probiotics, we first need to learn about the bacteria inside our bodies. Yes, there are bacteria in our body, particularly in the intestines. Some of them even play an essential role in managing our overall health.

Read more as we discuss the bacteria in the human intestine, their relation to probiotics, and their benefits.

What is Gut Bacteria?

The human body is a wondrous thing. It’s made up of billions of tiny elements that keep us alive, for example, cells, tissues and microbiome, among others. The microbiome itself consists of trillions of microbiota such as viruses, fungi and bacteria. While they exist throughout the body, many of them live in the intestines.

We’re used to associating bacteria with a kind of infection that makes us feel ill, but this is not entirely correct. There are about 50 trillion intestinal or gut bacteria, and not all are bad. In fact, we need some of them to be healthy.

Generally, there are two kinds of gut bacteria. They can be either bad (pathogenic) or friendly (symbiotic). When a person is born, the kinds of microbiota in their body, including their gut bacteria, are determined by their genes. But as they grow older, it can change according to their environment, medication use, exercise and diet.

The Role of Gut Bacteria in Health and Wellbeing

The health benefits of friendly gut bacteria are:

1. Breaking down toxic food compounds

2. Synthesizing amino acids and vitamins, like vitamins B and K

3. Protecting the body from harmful pathogens in contaminated drinks or foods

4. Boosting the immune system

As mentioned above, our gut bacteria changes as we get older. While doing so, they affect our bodies in several ways. For example, there is evidence that the shifts in gut bacteria’s structure can accelerate ageing.

Furthermore, studies have found that gut bacteria can impact our hearts and brain. Not only does our gut stimulate the immune system, but it also interacts with the two vital organs. This is why our gut can control our physiology, from our blood pressure, metabolism and mood. It has also been linked to cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, a study has discovered that gut bacteria can also affect our depressive tendencies.

Benefits of Probiotics and Prebiotics

A woman lying down on the sofa while holding her stomach and forehead
Your gut bacteria is affecting your mind too.

We know now that friendly gut bacteria are beneficial for our health in more ways than one. Therefore, it’s essential to help them combat bad gut bacteria by feeding them the right kind of food.

All in all, avoiding processed foods and choosing a balanced diet featuring fruits and vegetables are good for our body, so the same principle should apply to our gut. At times, though, we need prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are defined as a group of nutrients that feed the gut bacteria. Once digested by the gut bacteria, their by-products become short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that lower the pH of the large intestine. A lower pH will then prevent the bad bacteria from growing.

Prebiotics can be found in:

1. Carbohydrates

2. Inulin (fibre in plant-based foods, like agave, wheat, onion, garlic, asparagus)

3. Oligosaccharides (garlic, onion, wheat, legumes)

4. Resistant starch (chilled potatoes, beans, legumes, green bananas, fried rice, oats, barley)

5. Pectic Oligosaccharide or POS (sugar beet pulp, apple pomace, olive, passion fruit peels, citrus)

6. Cocoa-derived flavanols

7. Human’s and cow’s milk

8. Seaweeds and microalgae

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts found in some foods. When consumed, probiotics can help the good gut bacteria to grow.

Probiotics can be found in:

1. Yoghurt

2. Probiotic supplements

3. Fermented foods (tempeh, kimchi, miso)

A shot of yoghurt being poured into one of two glasses
You can taste the benefits of probiotics from a bottle of yoghurt.

Probiotics aren’t created equal; different strains have different effects on the body. Even so, probiotics have the potential to treat the following conditions or diseases:

1. Diarrhoea: Research has shown that probiotics can relieve diarrhoea faster.

2. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Probiotics proves to be effective and safe to treat IBS.

3. Ulcerative colitis (chronic IBS): There is evidence that probiotics can improve the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, but the study is still limited.

4. H. pylori infection: The infection is usually treated using antibiotics, and probiotic supplements can enhance their effectiveness and reduce the severity of the side effects. The study also concluded that probiotics can also maintain friendly gut bacteria.

5. Urinary tract infections: Probiotic Lactobacillus is considered part of natural treatment for urinary tract infections.

6. Recurrence of bladder cancer: A study suggests that probiotics can act as a biomarker and provide a therapeutic effect in bladder cancer.

7. Side effect of colon removal surgery (pouchitis): While the evidence is low, probiotics effectively prevent pouchitis.

More than improving digestion, gut bacteria also affects the heart and mind. This knowledge adds weight to the saying that goes, “You are what you eat.” Improving the friendly gut bacteria, which is one of the benefits of probiotics, is a way to reach overall health and wellbeing.

TCM’s Perspective on Probiotics

In TCM, good gut health is vital as our food intake is ultimately converted to ‘qi’ (vital energy) and blood elements that are crucial for the nourishment of the mind and body. From TCM’s perspective, the primary organ responsible for maintaining a healthy and functioning digestive system is the spleen. 

Besides digesting food, the spleen and stomach also take on the combined role of breaking down food into nutrients and subsequently converting them into the vital ‘qi’ and blood elements. It is essential to maintain a healthy spleen – the source of ‘acquired constitution‘ so that our body has the energy needed to carry out daily activities.

An unhealthy, disrupted gut often presents with gastrointestinal conditions such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and gas, which are symptoms similar to patients with an unhealthy spleen. In TCM, this is explained by the deficiency of the spleen ‘qi’

Depending on the individual’s body constitution, this ‘qi‘ deficiency can manifest as different symptoms in any organ. That can result in the stagnation of the flow of ‘qi’ and blood, also known as stasis. In the spleen, stasis can result in symptoms such as bloating, gas and constipation. A prolonged stagnation of the spleen ‘qi’ often results in an accumulation of internal dampness resulting in diarrhoea and a feeling of general lethargy. 

Individuals should consult a TCM physician to better understand their body constitution and receive personalized treatments for their ailments. With the right diagnosis and treatment, TCM can repair and restore the gut environment to maintain a healthy and active gut bacteria colony and improve overall gastrointestinal function.

This is an adaptation of an article, “Healthy Intestines, Healthy Body“, which first appeared on the Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. Harvard Chan School. 2017. The Microbiome  [Accessed 9 February 2022]
  2. Scientific American. 2021. Gut Bacteria Change as You Get Older—and May Accelerate Aging  [Accessed 9 February 2022]
  3. American Heart Association. 2020. How bacteria in your gut interact with the mind and body  [Accessed 9 February 2022]
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2019. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications  [Accessed 9 February 2022]
  5. Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. Health benefits of taking probiotics  [Accessed 9 February 2022]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2016. Can probiotics help against diarrhea?  [Accessed 10 February 2022]
  7. Frontiers. 2020. Efficacy and Safety of Probiotics in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis  [Accessed 10 February 2022]
  8. Cochrane. 2020. Probiotics for the treatment of active ulcerative colitis  [Accessed 10 February 2022]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2020. Using Probiotics as Supplementation for Helicobacter pylori Antibiotic Therapy  [Accessed 10 February 2022]
  10. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2020. The Urinary Microbiome and Bladder Cancer: Susceptibility and Immune Responsiveness  [Accessed 10 February 2022]
  11. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2018. The role of probiotics in women with recurrent urinary tract infections  [Accessed 10 February 2022]
  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2012. The role of antibiotics and probiotics in pouchitis  [Accessed 10 February 2022]

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