The benefits of probiotics and how they can help to combat chronic inflammation.
Your digestive system contains trillions of gut bugs, known collectively as the gut microbiome. Approximately 70 percent of the immune system is located in the gut and a healthy gut microbiome plays an important role in protecting against disease and keeping inflammation at bay.
The gut microbiome can be disrupted by antibiotics, diets high in sugar, processed and fried foods, low fibre consumption, food poisoning, chronic stress or inactivity, leading to a condition called gut dysbiosis where there is an imbalance of beneficial and pathogenic microbes. Symptoms can include frequent bloating, flatulence, indigestion, food intolerances, skin problems and constipation or diarrhoea. This may be accompanied by a leaky gut where the intestinal wall becomes damaged and more permeable, triggering low-grade inflammation in the body.
Probiotics are supplements that contain live beneficial bacteria or fungi, taken orally to promote health. Research has shown they may be a helpful aid in reducing the severity of conditions associated with inflammation such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel disease.
Top tips for managing inflammation using beneficial microbes
1. Consider taking a probiotic dietary supplement
A recent large study looked at whether probiotics can reduce inflammation in humans. The results showed a significant reduction in inflammatory molecules in the blood following probiotic supplementation. Probiotics used in the study contained either multiple strains or single strains. However, the most effective strain for reducing inflammation in this study was bifidobacter.
Seek guidance from a registered nutritional therapist who can help you choose the right supplement for your condition or symptom, as different strains have different effects. Alternatively, you can take a multi-strain probiotic for general health and wellbeing. For some people, probiotics can aggravate problems with gas and bloating, so always start slowly with low quantities.
Whilst probiotics are generally safe, individuals who are severely ill, immunocompromised or those with indwelling or central venous catheters should avoid taking probiotics.
2. Consume fermented foods
Fermented foods such as natural yoghurt, unpasteurised sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, natto and cottage cheese are natural sources of beneficial bacteria to support gut health. However, if you are prone to digestive issues such as bloating, excessive flatulence or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), start with small amounts of these foods.
3. Eat prebiotic foods
Your good gut bugs will only multiply and thrive if you consume the foods they like. These foods are called prebiotics and include onions, cabbage, broccoli, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, asparagus, legumes, bananas, flaxseeds, oats, cocoa and apples. Fermentation of these foods in the gut creates short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that may help to reduce inflammation.
4. Choose a gut-friendly lifestyle
If you are inactive, obese, chronically stressed or your diet lacks fibre and is high in refined sugar, processed and fried foods, then taking a probiotic will not help. Making changes to address these underlying causes of inflammation is an important first step before adding a probiotic supplement.
Probiotics can be a powerful aid in restoring gut health and reducing inflammation. In addition to a probiotic supplement, the gut ecosystem can be modified through diet and lifestyle changes such as physical activity and the consumption of prebiotic and fermented foods, and by avoiding foods that upset the balance of good bacteria.