Did you know that your digestive tract contains more than 400 different species of “friendly” bacteria? These little bugs, commonly referred to as probiotics help maintain the natural balance of micro-flora in the digestive tract where trillions of bacteria live. That’s right! Probiotics are live bacteria with immense therapeutic and health benefits. Principal organisms that have been used as probiotic agents include strains of Lactobacilli.
Unlike the friendly 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 ‘friendly’ gut bacteria declines and that of the ‘unfriendly’ ones dominate, health problems may follow. Poor bacterial balance can cause blood sugar imbalances, sugar cravings, weight gain, poor immunity, low energy and digestive disturbances. A good balance of intestinal flora is, therefore, very important to our overall health.
Probiotics can be conceived as scientific strategy that utilises nutritionally or microbially modified food products to alleviate common gastro intestinal symptoms and some other infirmities. These modified food products are consciously used with a view to promoting a healthy digestive system and the overall health of man. And this is achieved when the growth of harmful bacteria is reduced as noted above. That’s right! You can boost the beneficial flora of the gut at the expense of the more harmful ones! I call those beneficial ones -“Natural Gut Scavengers.” You know what they do? 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.
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 microorganisms could be responsible for their profound health benefits. Our great grand parents must have been very wise in finding other sources of Lactobacilli!
The fact that a healthy digestive system benefits other body systems can never be over emphasised. Probiotics may:
Alleviate lactose intolerance: This 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.
Protect against infection: Studies have revealed that Lactobacillus bacteria could colonise the vagina, kill viruses, and reduce the risk of infections, including bacterial vaginosis.
Relieve 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.
Treat 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.
Prevent allergies: Research has shown that 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 psychological and physical stress, eating disorder, gastritis, regulation of glucose metabolism, and aging. Also probiotics are said to promote urinary and genital health, enhance and boost the immune system, alleviate diarrhea caused by antibiotic treatments or other medications, assist in the management of inflammation, may reduce cholesterol levels, and decrease the risk of certain cancers. It also exerts antioxidant properties
You can purchase your probiotics from health pharmacies and they come in capsule, tablet or powder formulations.
My favorite probiotic homemade treat is from fermented coconuts. I simply drill two holes at the top, slightly pointed end and pour the coconut water into a ceramic bowl, not plastic to avoid toxins leaching into my solution. I usually keep this in my pantry for about 48 hours. And my fizzy, sour, champagne-like elixir that I can add to my healing arsenal is ready! There are many important benefits of fermented coconut water, including relief from disease as well as sugar cravings. Shiny hair, clear skin, and a flat abdomen are a few more benefits.
A few tips: Body odor: You can harmonise your intestinal flora to get rid of body odour:
Fermented water from 2- 3 days soaked maize known as “ekanogi” or “omidun” in Yoruba, serves as a good solvent to extract active ingredients from medicinal plants used in treating body odours. For example, a strong decoction of the whole plant of Equisetium sp. is made with the “omidun” and taken 2X daily for effective protection against body odour.
Pawpaw roots mixed with guava bark and lime rind, decocted for 45 minutes in “omidun” can work from within to naturally detoxify your body.