The health benefits of probiotics explained
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Probiotics are living organisms that can be found naturally in foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut. Many Brits swear by them – but, do they live up to the hype? What are the health benefits that can be gained through incorporating probiotics into your diet?
Probiotics are hailed as having multiple health benefits.
They are said to improve symptoms in IBS, diarrhoea and even that they might improve cholesterol levels, but are these claims true?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts said to have health benefits, they are often described as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria.
They’re commonly added to yoghurts or they can be taken as food supplements.
They can even be found in common foods such as garlic, bananas, onions, oats and leaks.
How do they work?
Probiotics are known as ‘good’ bacteria as they compete for space and food against harmful bacteria and prevent them from settling in the gut.
The NHS says: “Probiotics are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut (including your stomach and intestines) when it’s been disrupted by an illness or treatment.”
What are the benefits of probiotics?
The extent to which probiotics are said to help restore balance in the gut has been disputed.
The NHS say: “There’s little evidence to support many health claims made about them.
“For example, there’s no evidence to suggest that probiotics can help treat eczema.”
But, for more minor ailments to do with digestion and gut health probiotics could help.
Harvard Health claims that probiotics can:
- Improve immune function
- Improve digestion
- Improve the absorption of nutrients
Probiotics are said to relieve symptoms of diarrhoea, the symptoms of IBS and even to help treat flatulence.
Those hoping to improve their gut health should be aware that the NHS does not classify probiotics as a medicine, they label them as food.
Because probiotics are classed as a food they don’t go through the rigorous testing medicines do.
This means you cannot be sure if a product claims to contain probiotics that it actually contains the types of bacteria stated on the food label.
The product may not contain enough bacteria to have an effect or the bacteria may not be able to survive long enough to reach your gut as many probiotic products claim to do.
While probiotics appear to be safe and you shouldn’t have any side effects from them they should not be treated as a cure, rather as a supplement.
If you have any serious digestion problems or if you are suffering from IBS you should seek professional medical advice.
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