Since the beginning of the year I have been increasingly interested in the role of the body's good bacteria. This partly came about when a friend suggested that taking probiotics could help clear up my bad skin, and at that point I was willing to try anything! Since then I've also discovered prebiotics and have recently been testing out the Immunaid pastilles* from Bimuno. As per usual, I'm super-curious about how all of these wonderful things work, and have spent lots of time researching the topic. So, here's a little overview for you...
Inside the gut: a delicate balance
Most people know that the gut is where food is digested and nutrients are absorbed. Good bacteria help with this process but what is often unknown is that they also play a pretty massive part in the body’s immune response as our intestines actually contain more immune cells than the rest of our body. As the intestine has a surface area of around 300m² in humans, it also has the greatest contact with foreign substances that are delivered with your food, such as viruses, antigens, and other microorganisms. The delicate balance of good and bad bacteria living in the gut is increasingly disrupted by diet, illness, the overuse of antibiotics, and even the modern lifestyle (including stress!) and an increasing number of diseases are linked to these disturbances within your gut.
While this is a little off-topic, I also found it really fascinating to learn that each individual's gut microflora represents a history of their diet, disease, stress and the medications they have encountered. We are even moving towards being able to monitor health and diagnose illness based on the contents of your gut. How incredible is that?! If you want to know more, I highly recommend watching this brilliant TEDx talk on gut flora.
Back to where I was...
Supporting good bacteria: probiotics vs. prebiotics
The good news is that it's possible to support the good bacteria in the gut. However, this is where the probiotic versus prebiotic debate occurs. Probiotics and prebiotics are both designed to achieve the same thing, which is to boost the good bacteria in the gut, but they do it in different ways.
Firstly, probiotics are live 'friendly' bacteria that can be consumed in food (in forms such as yogurt drinks) or as capsules to help boost your good bacteria. However, because they are live, they are perishable. Not only can they be damaged by temperatures and long-term storage, but due to a number of factors, once consumed they may be dead or damaged before they reach our gut.
Alternatively, prebiotics work by feeding the existing good bacteria in our gut. In particular, an advanced form of prebiotics, Galacto-oligosaccharides (used in Bimuno), are a type of complex carbohydrate produced by combining the sugars present in milk in a way that mimics the structure of highly beneficial prebiotics naturally present in mother’s milk. Because of the structure of the bonds within Galacto-oligosaccharides, they are highly stable and resistant to the body's enzymes and acids, meaning that they reach the intestine intact. Amazing!
Yummy prebiotic pastilles from Bimuno
As I mentioned, Bimuno prebiotics use Galacto-oligosaccharide prebiotics in their products. However, they are also considered to be a 'second generation' prebiotic meaning that as well as supporting the good bacteria, they offer additional functionality by inhibiting the adhesion of bad bacteria to the gut wall.
While Bimuno prebiotics are also available in a powder sachet form, I really like the pastilles, not least because their texture, and slight sweetness, is like super-chewy gummy candy (my weakness!) and so they are enjoyable to eat and go some way to satisfying my cravings. They're also incredibly easy to take, I just chew a couple after breakfast.
In the week since I started taking Bimuno regularly I haven't been at all bloated, and just feel really well in myself. While I probably couldn't afford to take them on an ongoing basis due to my student budget, when it comes to the time of year that everyone is being struck down by colds, or if I'm just feeling a little stressed and run-down, I will without doubt be reaching for these.
I hope this post has gone some way to help you to understand how important it is to keep your gut happy and healthy.