What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live strains of bacteria that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed. Probiotics contain common strains or similar strains to those found in our gut and that have been identified as being ‘good’ or beneficial for our health.
Should I take Probiotics?
Probiotics are live strains of bacteria that are similar to common strains that are found in our gut and that have been identified as being ‘good’ or beneficial for our health. There have been numerous studies into the benefits of taking probiotics with varying results. While probiotics have been found to offer no clear benefits to healthy adults – there are a number of studies which have demonstrated their health benefits in treating some forms of IBS, antibiotic associated diarrhea and are recommended during or after a course of antibiotics to help restore the balance of beneficial gut flora that underpins our digestive health and immune system.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are made up of either soluble fiber or resistant starch – which are essentially sugars that are indigestible to humans but that feed our ‘good’ gut bacteria. Prebiotics pass through our intestine to reach our colon where it is fermented by our good gut bacteria. During this fermentation process, the prebiotic fiber and resistant starch is converted to short-chain fatty acids like butyric acid. Butyric acid stimulates more good bacterial growth. It also improves mineral and fat absorption, reduces inflammation and helps prevent cancer formation. The anti-inflammatory effects of Butyrate are very effective in treating conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohns disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
What is the difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics?
- Probiotics are live strains of bacteria – similar to common strains that are found in our gut and that have been identified as being ‘good’ or beneficial for our health.
- Prebiotics: are types of fiber and resistant starch that are largely indigestible to humans but that feed our ‘good’ gut bacteria.
Do I have a food allergy or food intolerance?
If you are suffering cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, or constipation after eating certain foods then it is most likely that your gut has become extremely sensitive and even intolerant to many types of foods. Food sensitivity is quite a common symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The most common foods to irritate the gut and cause cramps, bloating and gas tend to be fatty foods, gluten, dairy such as milk and butter and wheat bran and fibrous foods. Fibrous foods include oats, fruits, and many types of vegetables such as onions, and crucifers ( such as cauliflower and sprouts) and lastly peas, beans and lentils. If you think you’ve developed food intolerance you may wish to read more about restrictive diets such as the FODMAP diet or the Specific Carbohydrate diet – which help you identify and eliminate certain foods from your diet that cause gut sensitivities.
What are FODMAPs – and how to I avoid them?
FODMAPs (Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) are more complex types of starches that are not easily broken down by our digestive enzymes in the small intestine. They therefore tend pass through our small intestine until they reach our large intestine and colon where the majority of our gut bacteria live. Here they are fermented by our gut bacteria which can result in the build up of gas and stress on the gut lining which can result in cramps bloating, wind and diarrhoea.
What foods contain FODMAPS?
FODMAPS can be found in many types of food, Including
- Pulses (peas, beans and lentils)
- Crucifers (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Jerusalem artichokes
- Stone Fruits (plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries)
- Pome Fruits such as apples and pears
- Many people cannot digest milk sugar (lactose)
For some people with intolerance or sensitivity to milk sugar (lactose), drinking milk or dairy elicits a similar response to FODMAP foods. Diest such as the FODMAP and Specific Carbohydrate diet reduce or exclude FODMAPs to reduce cramps, bloating and other gut problems. These foods can then be reintroduced gradually at a later date to identify which in particular are the cause of sensitivities and digestive problems. NB Lifestyle, medication and stress are all known to influence gut problems and so simply eliminating FODMAPs may not solve your problems on its own.
Further information on FODMAPS is available here:
My gut problems may be caused by stress – what can I do?
Stress is found to be as harmful for your gut as a bad diet so unsurprisingly it is often a cause of gut problems. When I was first diagnosed with IBS over 20 years ago the doctor wrote off the diagnosis as yuppy disease – because the recurring theme amongst patients was stress. At the time little was known and many disregarded the condition but we have since come to appreciate the significance.
Now we know more about how our gut and our brains are interlinked via the gut brain axis – and how our gut and our gut bacteria communicate and influence our brain – so it makes much sense that our brain – and our emotional well being can influence our gut.
We are not in a position to tell you how to manage your affairs or live your life – but the major causes of stress tend either to be pressures in the workplace, relationship problems at home or financial difficulties.
Often it is a result of multiple pressures that are hard to manage but when these spill over and affect your sleep and your life outside of work then this becomes a problem.
In all cases you will need to confront and acknowledge the problems head on and ask for help – whether from your boss, hr or colleagues allowing you to take a break – or from your partner or spouse – or a close friend who can help you make decisions and organise your affairs.