Probiotics, prebiotics, antibiotics. The words often cause confusion because they sound similar. But, of course, they mean very different things, although all three are derived from the Greek word “bios”, meaning “life”.
Most people would love a magic pill that would put an end to all their health problems. Preferably one that contains prebiotics (meaning “before life”) and probiotics (“helping life”), along with a few trace elements, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins.
Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as microorganisms, which when administered alive in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. They are advertised by the pharma industry as protective, anti-infection agents that give the body’s natural reserves a boost against disease. They are sold as capsules and powders containing organisms like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The products are much hyped, and have fancy names and expensive packaging.
However, what advertisements do not mention is that to be effective, there should be at least 75 million live organisms in each capsule. Food and chlorine in water kill these organisms. They therefore have to be swallowed with non-chlorinated water on an empty stomach. The intestines need to be populated with these organisms. So initially, the capsules have to be swallowed four to six times a day. The minuscule numbers contained in commercially available capsules are insufficient and do not confer any real health benefit.
Probiotics are not new products; they have been around for centuries. Fermented dough and curd (yogurt) contain natural, healthy probiotics. Commercially available yogurt may not contain live lactobacillus (probiotics) unless specifically mentioned on the package.
Natural probiotics like curd have many medicinal properties that are being rediscovered now. Curd starts to act in the mouth itself. It reduces the number of plaque forming bacteria, and prevents bad breath, tooth decay and mouth ulcers.
In the stomach, curd helps neutralise gastric acidity, reducing belching, burning and dyspepsia. It prevents infections, particularly the growth and multiplication of H. pylori, which is implicated in gastric ulcers and stomach cancer.
In the intestine, probiotics live with other protective intestinal flora, reducing gas formation and diarrhoea. The immunological effects reduce the incidence and symptoms of Crohn’s disease (inflammatory condition of the intestines that may affect any part from the mouth to the anus) and ulcerative colitis. Bowel habits become regular and the incidence of colon cancer reduces in those who eat curd regularly.
The action of the probiotics on digested food results in the synthesis of B-complex vitamins. This reduces vitamin deficiencies. Children who are given curd in addition to milk have less diarrhoea than those given milk alone.
Many Indians are relatively lactose intolerant and develop bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea when given to drink milk. They thus tend to curtail their milk intake and in the absence of calcium supplementation become susceptible to osteoporosis. In curd, however, the milk is already partially digested, and this reduces the symptoms of intolerance. As little as one cup of curd a day is beneficial in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Studies have also shown that eating curd regularly prevents the development of candidiasis, a common vaginal fungal infection. Other studies have shown conflicting results with no real benefit. But this has not prevented pharmaceutical companies from advocating lactobacillus capsules and vaginal pessaries for candidial infection. Curd also boosts the immune system. Regular eaters swear by it, saying it reduces infections as well as the duration of illnesses.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are soluble fibres and non-digestible food ingredients that remain in the colon. They selectively stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial microorganisms already present in the large intestine. Prebiotics are found in oats, wheat, onions and garlic. When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, they form “synbiotics”. This probably confers the best health benefits with probiotics acting in the small intestine and prebiotics in the large.
Antibiotics are used to kill harmful microorganisms in the intestine, bloodstream and the various organs. They should be used appropriately in the correct dosage and duration. Unlike probiotics and prebiotics, antibiotics are specific for a particular infection. They are not health supplements.
Antioxidants are found in coloured fruits and vegetables. Oxidation is essential for cell metabolism. During this process a few cells die releasing harmful free radicals. This is prevented by antioxidants.
All said and done, health does not come packaged as an expensive magic capsule containing probiotics and antioxidants to be drunk with a glass of artificial fibre. For good health,
Eat four to five helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. The green, yellow, orange and red ones contain antioxidants
Curd reduces infections as well as the duration of illnesses
Eat one tablespoon of homemade curd first thing in the morning on an empty stomach
Eat chappatis four or five times a week
Give these health ingredients an extra boost by exercising one hour everyday.
Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata)
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Healthy eating, not supplements, is the best way to keep the good bacteria in your gut healthy, says a dietitian and researcher. As with vitamins, it’s best to get the bacteria you need from healthy food rather than taking often expensive and potentially ineffective supplements, says Gail Cresci, Medical College of Georgia, dietitian and researcher.
She equates the good bacterium in your gastrointestinal tract to another living being inside that helps keeps you healthy.
“If you do good by your bacteria, they will do good by you,” Ms. Cresci says.
There is even mounting evidence that a healthy gut microbiota helps maintain a healthy weight. Studies have shown, for example, that when bacteria from a genetically fat mouse are placed in a lean germ-free mouse, it gains weight without changing its food intake.
Unfortunately poor diets are hurting the bacteria in many of us and the overuse of antibiotics is taking its toll as well, particularly the common, broad-spectrum antibiotics that wipe out anything in their path, good and bad bacteria included.
Cresci cites inadequate fiber and excess unhealthful fats as contributing to the problem, and states that a good daily diet has adequate high-quality protein, fiber, healthy fats and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Source: ScienceDaily October 22, 2009
Moderate exercise can reduce the negative effects of belly fat, which is linked to metabolic syndrome, says a new study. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
“The benefits of exercise were apparent, even without a change in diet. We saw improvements in insulin sensitivity, less fat in the liver, and less inflammation in belly fat,” said Jeffrey Woods, a professor at the University of Illinois (U-I) who led the study.
Inflammation is the response of body tissues to injury or irritation; characterized by pain, swelling, redness and heat. Kinesiology is the science of human movement and it focuses on how the body functions and moves.
Belly fat is particularly dangerous because it produces inflammatory molecules that enter the bloodstream and increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, he said.
Woods and his colleagues examined the effects of diet and exercise on the inflammation of visceral or belly fat tissue in mice. A high-fat diet was first used to induce obesity in the animals.
After six weeks, mice were assigned to either a sedentary group, an exercise group, a low-fat diet group, or a group that combined a low-fat diet with exercise for six or twelve weeks so the scientists could compare the effects in both the short and long term, said an Illinois release.
“The surprise was that the combination of diet and exercise didn’t yield dramatically different and better results than diet or exercise alone,” said Vicki Vieira, study co-author.
Woods said that it is a promising finding. “The benefits of exercise were apparent even if the animals were still eating a high-fat diet. That tells me that exercise could decrease or prevent these life-threatening diseases by reducing inflammation even when obesity is still present.”
“The good news is that this was a very modest exercise programme. The mice ran on a treadmill only about one-fourth of a mile five days a week. For humans, that would probably translate into walking 30 to 45 minutes a day five days a week,” he noted.
Sources: The Times Of India
A single molecule in your intestinal wall, activated by the waste products from gut bacteria, plays a large role in controlling whether you are lean or fatty. When activated, the molecule slows the movement of food through the intestine, allowing you to absorb more nutrients and thus gain weight.
Bacterial byproducts are a source of nutrients, but now it appears that they can also be chemical signals used to regulate body functions.
Humans have a large and varied population of beneficial bacteria that live in their intestines. The bacteria break up large molecules that the host cannot digest, and the host in turn absorbs many of the resulting small molecules for energy and nutrients.
Researchers focused on two species of bacteria that break up dietary fibers from food into small molecules called short-chain fatty acids. They found that short-chain fatty acids can bind to and activate a receptor molecule in the gut wall called Gpr41.
When researchers disrupted communication between the bacteria and the receptor in mice, they found that their intestines passed food more quickly, and the mice weighed less and had a leaner build, even though they ate no less than other mice.