Sunday, June 24, 2012

Treat Your Immune System to a Natural Dose of Probiotics

Probiotics are the new buzz words these days, simply because we are learning more about their incredible benefits to digestive health and applying the knowledge to ward off illnesses and lead to longer, more productive lives. Probiotics are typically used in the same sentence (or two) with our immune system; the relationship between both are inextricably linked and they function together to keep our internal systems in check. This is mainly due to there being 70% of our immune system in the intestines, the health of which is governed by gut flora.

So how does it work? Medical Researchers are finding that one of the unlocked keys to good health is right within our gut, specifically in the world of microbes that live in it. It is also where tissues of the immune system reside. The volume of studies are mounting that "good" bacteria are not only beneficial for digestive health but are also extraordinary in stimulating immune system function. Some researchers are already working on understanding new found benefits of probiotics as an essential component in the connection with obesity. The total advantagges for probiotic health just keep adding up.

According to the World Health Organisation, probiotics can be defined as live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. A diet rich in naturally occurring probiotics is now advised and encouraged.

Before our relatively recent discovery of good bacteria, all bacteria were outcasts and were not given the respect they deserved. One of the first probiotic strains that was discovered and used as an antibiotic treatment came from the bowels of a soldier during the First World War. He did not succumb to the spread of infectious bacteria that caused chronic diarrhoea (shigellosis) and killed many. The bacterium, Escherichia coli Nissle strain was found to be an effective method of treatment, when antibiotics were not yet available, for individuals with acute gastrointestinal infections.

Good versus bad bacteria

An imbalance of friendly versus harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract or gut can lead to digestive complaints that can cause far more serious health problems. Some researchers feel that symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome are directly related to a bacterial imbalance.

Harmful bacteria or microbes proliferate in conditions where there is an imbalance; when there are insufficient good bacteria to maintain good health. These symptoms can be mild to severe gastrointestinal complications and immune breakdown.

Some of the friendly microbes commonly found in foods are:
• Lactobacillus
• Bacteroides
• Bifidobacteria
• Proprionbacteria

Harmful bacteria include:
• Salmonella
• Shigella
• Escherichia Coli
• Clostridium difficile

The interesting fact about microbes is that they are unique to each individual, beginning at birth and evolving through life. The GI (gastro-intestinal) tract of a human foetus is completely free of bacteria and fungi. But just before infants enter this world they ingest friendly microbes present in the mother's birth canal as they move through. Those born by Caesarean section acquire microbes from the environment. In fact, we are bombarded with 10 times more microbes in our bodies than the number of cells that exists within us.

Natural sources of Probiotics

Getting plenty of probiotics is now an important part of a healthy immune system. Choices of probiotics in foods can seem limited. One option you can use is to take probiotics in capsule supplements or add the powder form to your favourite yoghurt to increase the amount in your diet. You can also obtain probiotics from naturally cultivated foods, such as:

• Cottage cheese
• Kefir
• Kimchi
• Miso
• Pickled ginger
• Tempeh
• Yoghurt
• Tamari
• Sauerkraut

Making your own fermented Probiotic food

Not all probiotics are created equal. Because of the popularity of probiotics these days, there are questionable products on the market with deceptive labelling. When choosing a Brand of probiotics opt for one which shows the results of an independent assay.

Preparing your own probiotic through fermentation is easy to do and can be just as effective. The Lactobacillus bacteria are responsible for fermentation; they also inhibit the process of putrefying bacteria that cause foods to rot. Vegetables, fruits, and dairy are commonly used for fermentation and even people who are lactose intolerant can usually enjoy fermented dairy products, as the lactose is converted to lactic acid.

When you consume homemade probiotics use them as condiments and not as significant portions of your meal, such as fermented tomatoes used as "ketchup" and applied modestly on foods.

Fermented fruits or vegetables are the easiest and healthiest to make:
• Wash the fruits/vegetables and cut into pieces
• Place cut pieces in a bowl, add sea salt and pound the pieces. Add herbs and spices for added flavour
• Gather all parts, including the juice, and place in a wide-mouth jar leaving about an inch of space at the top. Seal the jar tightly preventing air from getting in.
• Keep jar at room temperature for 2 to 4 days
• Store in a cool dark place, approximately 4 - 6 degrees Celsius.

Probiotics are not exactly nutrients, nor are they exactly food. They are living bacteria that exist in a symbiotic relationship with the human body. They secrete compounds that regulate cell function and there are many strains of bacteria that are good for your health that help to resist the growth of pathogens and infectious agents.

Benefits of probiotics to immune system health

Also known as intestinal flora, micro flora and gut flora, probiotics can reduce autoimmune diseases (cancer, allergy), enhance nutrient absorption, reduce bloating, fight yeast overgrowth, treat halitosis, treat diarrhoea and constipation.

Good bacteria can stabilise the digestive tract's bacterial environment by improving gastrointestinal IgA antibody responses and tightly controlling inflammation associated with infections.

Probiotic consumption is associated with a range of health benefits specifically the balance of micro-flora within the gastrointestinal tract. Numerous studies show that the body's natural defence against infections namely, lymphocytes and antibodies are enhanced with a diet that includes probiotic ingredients.

Their beneficial effects have gone full circle becoming popular, waning, and then returning more popular than before. When antibiotics were first introduced into health practices, it was at the same time that probiotics became known in science as a necessary part of a healthy immune system. Probiotics could not compete with the quick-acting, potent antibiotic. This unfortunately pushed probiotics out of the limelight and back into relative obscurity for a few decades, even though Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin himself, advised the use of a probiotic alongside the antibiotic. This is still good advice, just remember to take them at a different time; the probiotic before a meal and the antibiotic a while after.

Today we know how harmful long-term use of antibiotics is to our immune system. Antibiotics work by destroying both harmful and friendly bacteria resulting in a weakened immune system. The more we are exposed to antibiotics the more dangerous are microbes that evolve to infect our weakened system. Also, any bad bacteria not destroyed by the antibiotic are stronger by nature and thus we are left with a gut now populated by a much stronger strain. This is the reason for antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Make it a habit to incorporate foods rich in probiotics to aid the micro-flora of your GI tract and boost immune system function.

Margaret Le Monnier has over 20 years-experience as a qualified natural health professional in the UK. She is now writing articles for a website solely devoted to bringing a comprehensive range of natural health advice to everyone. To find out more about the immune system visit her website at Natural Health 4 Life.