Bacteria might not quite outnumber our own cells by 10 to 1 as once thought, but we're certainly still home to plenty of the microscopic fellas. While anti-bacterial hand gel would have us thinking that all bacteria are out to garrotte us, we actually need bacteria to survive.
You might have come across probiotics for immune system health before. You can often find them in yoghurt or bottles in health shops but why do you need to take them? Our immune systems don't only fire up when we come into contact with someone with the flu, they're active all the time and it's up to us to keep them in top health.
Many of us know that probiotics have immune-boosting properties but unless you know how it works and which you might need, keeping to a probiotic regimen can be hard.
Stick around and we'll explain why probiotics aren't a temporary trend and why it might be a good idea to add them into your daily routine.
What Are Probiotics Anyway?
The gut microbiome is a popular character at the moment and its reputation as the friendly neighbourhood organ isn't set to go anywhere. Yes, you read that right, the gut microbiome is so fundamental to human health that it's often spoken about as an organ in its own right. Even though it doesn't, technically, belong to you.
The microbiome in the gut is a whirring community of trillions of microbes. The microbes, or bacteria, that do good things like break down foods and kill nasties, are referred to as probiotics. Essentially, probiotics are bacteria that do good things inside us.
So if probiotics are already inside us, why do we need more?
This is where the complexity of the gut microbiome comes in. It's not a gated community. Instead, microbes move in, move out, go on holiday, leave their doors unlocked for squatters...you get the picture. The microbiome is a constantly changing environment.
Diet, environment and medicines all affect the bacteria in your gut and sometimes they get overrun by bacteria that doesn't sit well in your body. This is most clear when you take a course of antibiotics. This wonder medicine is great at killing dangerous bacteria but unfortunately, it kills healthy bacteria too. After antibiotics, we need to re-populate our guts with bacteria that are on our team before anything unfriendly marches in.
How Can Probiotics Improve Immune System Health?
You don't need to have taken antibiotics recently to benefit from probiotics. Even slight changes in your environment or mental health issues, like stress, can weaken the microbiome. The microbiome has a huge effect on the immune system and, by keeping your gut bacteria in top form, your immune system benefits.
The lining of your gut is sensitive and contains immune cells. The bacteria that reside in the gut interact with these cells and, given the right bacteria, the cells trigger the production of cytokines. Cytokines are a type of protein secreted from immune system cells and are responsible for lots of processes in the body. They can activate T-cells, the microscopic army that get sent to sites of injury or infection.
Probiotics go further than directly aiding the immune system too. More research is emerging that suggests the health of the microbiome is responsible, in part, for conditions such as anxiety and depression. A healthy microbiome seems to support a healthy mind.
As stress can negatively affect the immune system, it's important to look after our minds. By ensuring we have adequate probiotics to maintain a balanced and fully-functioning gut environment, we might be able to reduce stress from the inside out.
In this way, probiotics help reduce stress and reduced stress makes for a stronger immune system.
Do You Need to Take Probiotic Supplements?
Probiotics are everywhere. The most common ones you'll hear about are:
Some lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains, in particular, have been shown to support the immune system. They're used to treat and reduce the risk of bacteria invasion causing diarrhoea and may even reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Notable immune-boosting strains include:
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Bifidobacterium animalis
These bacteria exist all over the place, especially on foodstuffs. There are some particular foods that provide the perfect breeding ground for these bacteria, making them 'probiotic foods'. These include fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. Natural yoghurt is another hotbed of probiotic activity and live bacteria cultures will show up in the ingredients.
So if probiotics are already everywhere, do you need to take supplements?
The good news is that specifically taking probiotics, even if your gut microbiome is in good health, can help maintain that bacterial balance and keep it strong. When your gut has balance, the microbiome self-regulates its bacteria and malicious bacteria gets kicked out. As your microbiome is constantly shifting in response to your diet, health and environment, taking probiotic supplements will help it stay balanced no matter what you face.
While many traditional fermented foods should contain probiotics, they're often far more processed these days. Often foods have preservatives, sugars and vinegar in them instead of naturally occurring probiotics. Probiotic supplements can give you the peace of mind that you're actually, you know, getting probiotics.
The Best Probiotics to Take
If you have a specific health problem, such as IBS or diarrhoea, there are certain probiotics that have been shown to help your recovery. Different probiotics can also help settle skin conditions and support health during pregnancy.
Picking the right probiotics for you is important to get relief from any issues you're suffering with while some people take a mixture on a routine basis to stay in top health.
You can also choose immune system supplements that contain a variety of probiotics and proteins combined to give you an all-round boost. Opting for a mixture like this means your immune system should be getting everything it needs. Bar sleep. You can't take a supplement that makes you go to sleep so turn that TV off and go to bed on time!
Taking Probiotics for Immune System Health Can Keep You on Top Form
While it's common to hear internal systems spoken about separately, they're all connected on some level. The gut microbiome is emerging as a major crossroads for health and it has an effect on everything from immune response to stress levels. The more important we find the microbiome is, the more experts realise we must look after it.
Taking probiotics for immune system health is a great way to keep your microbiome ticking along happily and the immune cells in the gut working well. When your gut and immune system work well together, the resulting balance can have sweeping positive impacts for your entire health.
If you're looking for high-quality probiotics that are ready to get to work, check out our comprehensive range. You can choose from specific cultures or go for an immune system mixture. If you need any help deciding, head to our Virtual Clinic to book a free 20-minute consultation with one of our experienced Naturopaths.