I am frequently asked how often I take probiotics, and how important I feel they are to my overall health. My answer is very simple – every day, every month, for the last 21 years! How important they are is immeasurable to the health of the digestive tract, as I have outlined in explicit detail in my book, Gut Gastronomy , £30.
First however, it’s important to establish exactly what they are. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. These are the main reasons why probiotics are so important:
1. They fight the bad with the good
They help to colonize the beneficial bacteria in the gut that are essential for combating bacterial infections that might occur for a number of reasons, including poor quality food, excessive sugars in the diet, excess alcohol, deep fried foods and other poor eating habits.
2. They help you get the most out of your food
They support the rebuilding and repair of micro-cells that make up the villi of the intestinal wall. There are literally millions of these miniscule finger-like projections that vastly increase the total surface area for absorption – without these, you can barely absorb any of your food, irrespective of the quality of it.
3. They fight infections
They boost immunity in the gut as they form a large part of the immune ‘army’. When you have to take antibiotics, they kill off the pathogenic (bad) bacteria of the infection, but they also kill off and disrupt the beneficial bacteria (pre- and probiotics) in the gut, leaving the digestive system open to any other opportunistic infection. This is one of the main reasons why so many people in hospital develop secondary infections when they have been on intravenous antibiotics.
4. They boost your mind
It is now thought that probiotics are also relevant in supporting your mood and the state of mind you are in. Gershon wrote a brilliant book, The Second Brain , £8.90, wherein he identified that up to 85% of your serotonin receptor sites are in the gut, rather than the brain. Serotonin is a hormone-like neurotransmitter that creates positivity, happiness, laughter and fun, which explains why so many people with ‘tummy troubles’ are also not happy people. The two are inextricably linked. Probiotics help to ensure that the serotonin receptor sites are wholesome and flourishing in the gut.
5. They work better in capsule form
With all this understanding of what they are responsible for, why wouldn’t you take them? However, you need to know how to take them properly in order to be able to fully benefit. Sadly, they are not as effective when included in a so-called ‘healthy’ probiotic yoghurt, as the yoghurt has to contain the equivalent of many teaspoons of sugar to feed the living bacteria, many of which do not survive the acidic environment of the stomach, due to the high level of acid in there.
They are best taken in capsules, that are enteric-coated to survive the acidic environment of the stomach, and allow release of millions, if not billions of the delicate living probiotic organisms that can reach the destination of where they are needed most – in the intestinal area of the gut. My favourite brands to buy are Bio-kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula , £9.49; OptiBac Probiotics , from £11 and Biocare Bifidobacterium Infantis , £32.95. I take one capsule before I eat or drink anything in the morning, and two before retiring to bed, when the digestive system is repairing and healing itself as I sleep.