Does Taking Probiotics really help?
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In order to be able to say that probiotics definitely benefit our health, we’d have to prove that the live bacteria from probiotic products first survive being eaten and pass, still alive, through the stomach, which is highly acidic. They would then have to find a home in the gut where they could stay and breed, and would have to significantly boost the existing population there. Finally, we would have to show that they were having an actual effect on our health – and that that effect was there for a significant proportion of people. That’s a lot to prove!
Surgeon James Kinross at Imperial College London is studying this complex subject. He agrees that it is now known that whilst you are taking probiotic products, the live bacteria from them seem to survive the stomach and make it to the rest of the gut. However, it seems that when you stop taking them, they get flushed out of the system. He does recommend them for some of his patients who have conditions such as infective diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome, but he says that the evidence for them generally boosting the health of people without such conditions is lacking.
Chris ate a very refined diet with no oats or whole grains in it at all for 2 weeks. He then had to eat 100g of oats a day for 4 weeks to see what effect it had. Karen showed that it clearly changed the proportions of different kinds of bacteria in his gut, and their research has shown that some of the species that particularly increases when people eat more oats can be very good for us. These bacteria produce chemicals which are good for our hearts and for our gut lining.
Our personal gut bacteria depend for food on what we feed them – in other words, what we eat. So those that thrive on the food that we eat the most of will do very well. Researchers are trying to work out which kinds of bacteria are particularly beneficial for us, and then discovering what foods we should eat to help give them a boost.
Many of the beneficial bacteria in our lower intestine feast on fibre. This passes through the stomach and small intestine to be dealt with by the bacteria in our lower intestine. It’s this fibre in oats that seems to boost the bacteria probiotics.
Oats also contain a soluble fibre called beta glucan. This has been shown to reduce cholesterol and have a range of other benefits. So a bowl of oat porridge could give you a double health bonus!
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