The importance of probiotics for gut health

Author: ANCP   Date Posted:23 July 2015 

What is the gastrointestinal tract?

The gastrointestinal tract (GIT), often referred to as the digestive tract, begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. The tract itself is approximately 10 metres long and the digestive organs found along the way include the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver and large intestine.

The GIT has a vital role to play in helping our body breakdown down the food we eat to provide the energy our bodies need to function. This process begins in the mouth, where saliva aids the breakdown of carbohydrates before the stomach takes over and produces the digestive juices needed to break down food into small enough particles to then be passed on to the small intestine.

It is within the lower part of the small intestine, the ileum, that nutrients are absorbed and then carried to each of the cells within our bodies.

The GIT and the immune system

As well as playing a necessary role in the absorption of nutrients from our food, the GIT contains a significant amount of the body’s immune system. This is because a large part of the GIT is covered in tissue that contains white blood cells (lymphocytes) that are of significant importance to the immune system. These lymphocytes are responsible for identifying whether an incoming substance is likely to be harmful, and if so, they instigate an immune response.

Every day the GIT is bombarded with potentially harmful substances, such as bacteria, viruses and toxic substances, so it’s no wonder that the presence of immune cells within it is so high. Of course, as well designed as the GIT is, things can still occasionally go awry.

Infections and disruptions to our normal GIT function can easily occur – most often when we travel, are taking certain types of medications, or have been over-indulging in unwise food choices and alcohol! A sudden bout of diarrhoea, bloating, wind or stomach cramps may sometimes be a sign that something is amiss in your gut and should be investigated by a healthcare professional.

Importance of probiotics for gut health

Within each of our gastrointestinal systems lives a huge colony of bacteria – billions of different types (strains), of which most are usually ‘friendly’. It is important to have plenty of ‘good’ bacteria, or flora, to ensure a healthy gut and digestive function. Over consumption of unwise food choices such as sugary foods and alcohol can sometimes lead to a disruption in the balance of good bacteria.

Probiotics are friendly bacteria, which can help to keep the digestive tract in good health. Research has been conducted on various different strains of probiotics and has shown that certain strains, such as Saccharomyces boulardii, may be useful in reducing the risk of traveller’s diarrhoea and medically-diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In addition to these benefits, probiotics can also provide general support for a healthy immune system. Another way to look after you gut health is to consider including fermented food and drinks, such as kefir, kombucha, miso and tempeh in your diet.

Eating fermented foods will help provide your GIT with friendly bacteria and therefore support healthy digestion and immunity. Perhaps the best known source of probiotics, though, is yogurt. Over the years, we’ve all gotten used to seeing yogurts on the supermarket shelf, and in our refrigerator. But did you know that the probiotics that make yogurt both delicious and good for us have a limited lifespan?

The fresher the yoghurt, the more active probiotics that will be present – just another great reason to make your own yoghurt!

Watch our video about probiotics below