Our stomachs are incredibly important, and we’re not just talking how toned your abs may be. There’s a whole new area of research dedicated to how the health of your gut can affect the rest of your body.
One of the most interesting areas is pre- and probiotics, or ‘friendly’ bacteria. We have 100 trillion bacteria living in our stomach and intestines, but poor diet, too much alcohol, antibiotics, hormones and stress can all upset the natural balance of bacteria in our gut. Bacterial cultures can provide our digestive system with extra sources of the types of bacteria naturally found in our gut.
Get five surprising facts about friendly bacteria below.
They can help with weight loss
If you’re struggling to lose weight, your stomach could be the reason in more ways than one. Previous research has found thin people have different gut bacteria to those who are obese. This may be because a high-fat-low-fibre diet encourages the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria in the digestive system.
Now a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found taking probiotics could help women lose weight – and keep it off! The researchers concluded that rebalancing gut bacteria may strengthen the intestinal wall, making it harder to absorb large fat molecules.
They’re mood boosters
We know our emotional state can affect our digestion, now scientists have proven our gut can influence our brain. Existing evidence shows that creatures under stress have different gut bacteria to those with a more cheerful outlook. One theory is that bad bacteria disrupt the nerve signals – which transmit feelings of fullness and stress – from the stomach to the brain, another that bad bacteria produce chemicals similar to neurotransmitters that have an impact on brain chemistry.
But probiotics have been shown to boost mood. Researchers from UCLA’s School of Medicine discovered taking probiotics could relieve anxiety and stress by reducing activity in the emotional area of the brain. MRI scans of women involved in the study revealed the brain circuits involved in anxiety were less sensitive after a month of taking probiotic supplements.
They can fight colds and flu
Forget eating a ton of oranges every winter; healthy people who take probiotics may suffer from fewer colds and winter infections.
A recent study found New Zealand athletes who took a probiotic supplement for a month suffered 40 per cent fewer colds and stomach bugs than those who took a placebo.
They can lower blood pressure
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the main risks for heart disease. A healthy diet and exercise can help lower blood pressure, but the latest evidence suggests prebiotics can help too.
Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates, found naturally in foods including bananas, asparagus, parsnips and garlic, that help ‘feed’ probiotics and encourage them to multiply.
Malaysian researchers discovered prebiotics not only tackle hypertension, they could protect against the condition too. They found prebiotics help reduce the absorption of cholesterol from food, in turn lowering our cholesterol levels and reducing high blood pressure.
They can tackle cystitis
For years, cystitis sufferers have relied on drinking lots of water or cranberries to ward off infection, but emerging evidence suggests probiotics could help here too.
A major review of studies found probiotics can help rebalance ‘bad’ bacteria in the vagina and urinary tract, protecting against the infection. Even better, they could help prevent recurring attacks of cystitis too.
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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies