These are beneficial strains of bacteria that make up our bodies – specifically, our digestive tract. I’m talking about trillions of strains of gut microbes that perform certain helpful tasks to regulate countless processes in our body – including healthy digestion; weight management (and weight loss); skin health; nutrient absorption; immunity; chronic illnesses; heart health; cholesterol levels; hunger and appetite; brain clarity and mental health; bloating and inflammation. But just as the case of good versus evil, the same applies here in our gut. Unlike the beneficial bacteria, pathogenic bacteria referred to as “bad bugs” have the potential to cause damage to the digestive system. At times, an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria can lead to uncomfortable symptoms. When the composition of the ‘good’ gut bacteria declines and that of the ‘bad’ ones dominate, health problems may follow. Poor bacterial balance can cause blood sugar imbalances, sluggishness, sugar cravings, weight gain, poor immunity, low energy, digestive disturbances and decrease in your overall gut health.
I guess plenty of us are on this table. Bad bacteria are generated in our system from the typical modern western diet of processed and manufactured products by the food industry. So it is vital that we ensure the good strains of gut bacteria are replenished and present in our systems by being conscious of our food choices, as well as incorporating probiotics, supplements/foods that are packed full with live strains of beneficial gut microbes. I am sure you know what they do by now. They help break down food in the intestines, aid in the digestion process, help fight off disease, and boost the immune system. If we eat nothing but overly processed and hard to digest foods, then the fermentation process occurs within the gastro intestinal tract resulting to gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. However, providing the body with predigested foods such as fermented foods will help the existing microbes within to do the job they need to do.
Commercial products such as yoghurts, cheese, juices, fermented milk, soy products and other dietary supplements are packed with probiotics, and this culinary practice has thrived in countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas. For example, in India, many families use fermented milk as a treatment for diarrhea. In Nigeria, there have also been a number of positive trials using probiotics to treat ailments including thrush, intestinal dysfunctions, and inflammatory bowel disease amongst others. These days many practitioners have employed the use of probiotics in the treatment of diseases.
Some amazing probiotic foods to include in our diets are: Greek yogurt, tempeh, kefir, kim-chi, sauerkraut, kombucha and probiotic supplements.
Although most probiotics are dairy-based, our grandparents found locally available fermented cereal foods such as kunun zaki, burukutu and ogi to be potential probiotic vehicles. Also “ugba” made from oil bean seed is high in protein and when fermented gives natural probiotics, just like ogiri, okpei, dawadawa, iru from castor oil/melon/locust seed.
They are the reason the water from fermented cereals for example “ogi” stop diarrhea; and “ugba” a popular snack in the Eastern part of Nigeria relieves a constipated system. Their inherent micro-organisms could be responsible for their profound health benefits. The best time to take a probiotic is on an empty stomach. For most people, that means taking a probiotic first thing in the morning (at least an hour before a meal), or right before you go to sleep.
Although probiotics are generally safe to use, some reviews from researches suggest that children and adults with severe illnesses or compromised immune systems should avoid using probiotics. Some people with these conditions have experienced bacterial or fungal infections as a result of probiotic use. If a person has a condition that affects their immune system, they should speak with their physician before taking probiotics. Also, anyone using antifungal medication should wait until the infection has cleared up before taking probiotics. Some medications that may interact with certain probiotics include: antibiotics, antifungals (such as clotrimazole, ketoconazole, griseofulvin, e.t.c).
Alleviate lactose intolerance – this is common throughout the world, and is related to the deficiency of the enzyme, 3-galactosidase in the intestinal mucosa. Lactose is therefore undigested, an event that clinically manifests as abdominal distension, flatulence and watery diarrhea. Lactobacilli have been used in the alleviation of this condition. These probiotic agents act by increasing the endogenous production of 3-galactosidase which then improves lactose digestibility in the small intestine thus alleviating the unpleasant symptoms. Constipation – a condition characterised by slow gastrointestinal transit time which leads to infrequent bowel movement, thus producing small hard feces or difficult painful defecation, in addition to discomfort, distension and abdominal bloating. Probiotics have been explored and used to modulate the metabolic activity of the colonic micro-flora in order to improve intestinal motility and reduce fecal enzyme activity.
Atopic Diseases – probiotics have also been found to be of use in the prevention and management of some types of eczema in infants and children.
Allergies – a number of probiotic agents have been used in allergic conditions such as atopic dermatitis; food allergies and asthma. Probiotics have been found to be of use in the prevention and management of such allergies.
Some of the other areas where probiotics have been used include management of stress, a miscellany of infectious conditions, eating disorder, regulation of glucose metabolism, and aging.
Some of the probiotics listed above may not be readily available but Greek yogurt, fermented pap water and other locally fermented food sources are easy to get. Even some homemade probiotics drinks using apple cider vinegar works very well. You can as well buy probiotic supplements from health stores and follow their prescriptions. Note that you should choose either the food source or supplements but not both.
Take very good care of your gut. Remember – A good balance of intestinal flora is very important to your overall health.