Are you getting enough of the good stuff? Working together, pre and probiotics boost immunity from the inside out.
It’s a strange thought, but right from the moment we’re born, the human body becomes a host for other microorganisms. This includes the beneficial bacteria in our intestinal tracts, simply called “probiotics”.
These bacteria have daunting names such as “Lactobacillus acidophilus”, “Bifidobacterium bifidum” and “Bifidobacteria infantis”, but without them our immune systems wouldn’t be able to function as it should. In addition, disease-causing bacteria would proliferate.
“Prebiotics”, on the other hand, are food components that improve the food supply in our gastrointestinal tracts, giving the beneficial bacteria a chance to grow and flourish. Our prebiotic levels can be naturally boosted by eating lots of fruit and vegetables.
Bifidobacteria in babies
Before birth, a baby’s gastrointestinal tract is totally sterile. This means that it doesn’t contain any bacteria – not even the “good” ones. During the natural birth process, the baby receives some beneficial bacteria from the mother – organisms that immediately start to multiply, boosting the little one’s immunity.
Preliminary research shows that these good bacteria (mostly Bifidobacteria infantis) decrease the growth of so-called Rota viruses, known for causing diarrhoea and thrush, thus protecting the new-born against common infections. The bacteria also seem to help prevent lactose intolerance, while increasing the absorption of minerals and B vitamins and boosting the infant’s immature immune system.
What’s more, Australian researchers recently discovered that probiotics can prevent a serious bowel condition called necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies. In the study done at Sydney’s Nepean Hospital, in which a probiotic was mixed with breast milk and given to the babies, the healthy bacteria cut the risk of infection by 50%.
Breast milk also contains immune-boosting probiotics, which means that breastfeeding is another excellent way of increasing the number of Bifidobacteria in a baby’s intestinal tract.
Beneficial bacteria in adults
Adults have much bigger populations of gut bacteria, but only a few of these groups (e.g. Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria) seem to be beneficial to our health and capable of boosting immunity.
Several factors – such as stress, use of antibiotics, diarrhoea, an unhealthy diet, pollution, infections such as HIV/Aids, and ageing – can decrease our natural immunity and make us vulnerable to pathogens that cause disease. In addition, many harmful bacteria and viruses are becoming resistant to antibiotics, making treatment of common infections increasingly difficult.
Research shows that probiotics compete with harmful bacteria for food in the gastrointestinal tract, preventing them from multiplying and causing disease. They also seem to boost the uptake of important minerals, thus preventing deficiencies that could lower immunity.
Even though our understanding of probiotics is a work in progress, we can all benefit from ingesting probiotic cultures.
Interestingly, the Bifidobacteria are the most common probiotics in the gastrointestinal system and also the good bacteria that decrease as we age. It’s therefore important to take supplements or eat foods that contain live Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. A good example is natural yoghurt.
Many probiotic cultures of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria are currently available on the Australian market. Ask your pharmacist or health shop for assistance in choosing a probiotic product that’s right for you. In addition, follow a diet rich in fruit and vegetables to boost your prebiotic intake.