At this time of the year it can often feel like we are conducting a relentless war against bacteria and viruses and that the baddies are winning! Rather than battling the bugs once we’ve already caught something perhaps we need to think more in terms of preparation. By maintaining microbial balance and harmony within our bodies we may be stronger and more able to stay well when we do encounter a bug. What is interesting to me is that even in the conventional medical world, scientists are arguing that we should abandon the language of warfare and rather than use antibiotics to slaughter all the bacteria in our system, we should manage our inner wildlife.
In an ideal world we would all have perfect gut flora, however the stresses of modern life, poor diet and overuse of antibiotics means that many of us no longer have. By nurturing the invisible ecosystem in and on our bodies, we may be able to find other more effective ways to fight infectious diseases.
One important way we can help ourselves is through adding ‘live’ foods to our diet. In an ideal world, we should all be eating foods containing large numbers of healthy bacteria (for example Sauerkraut, Kimchi, strong live natural yoghurt, and fermented drinks such as Kefir and drinking buttermilk) and also avoiding foods that contain too many sugars that feed unhealthy yeasts and bacteria. I also find that drinking cider vinegar (another fermented product) regularly also seems to keep things in balance internally.
Another pretty easy way of maintaining balance is to supplement our gut flora by taking probiotics. We all know about taking probiotics during and after antibiotics as they can help us recover from the often disastrous effects that antibiotics can have on our digestive system. What is interesting to observe though is the huge amount of research being conducted into probiotics, which means we are seeing more specialist probiotic products hitting the shelves.
For example we now have a For Women by Optibac which contains special bacteria which target women’s intimate areas, helping to ward off thrush and other infections. Previously we would have just recommended any probiotic if someone presented with thrush (alongside diet changes of course - advice which still stands) but now we have this well-researched and very effective targeted product.
Another example of Saccharomyces boulardii, one of my medicine cabinet essentials as I have a strong phobia of vomiting. Saccharomyces boulardii is actually a yeast, but it deserves a mention as it seems to have a powerful ability to prevent stomach bugs. Great news if you have school-age children in the house!
Healthy gut flora is also important for babies and it turns out that this is a very strong argument for breastfeeding. In a study published in 2011, Katherine M. Hunt of the University of Idaho and her colleagues reported that the women’s milk had up to 600 species of bacteria, as well as sugars called oligosaccharides that babies cannot digest. The sugars serve to nourish healthy gut bacteria in the infants, the scientists said. The more the good bacteria thrive, the harder it is for harmful species to gain a foothold.
For babies that need a supplement (formula fed or C section babies for example) we also have a number of products that are safe and effective for infants. I was reading about in preparation for this article had found that baby mice were far healthier when they were given healthy bacteria early in life; they suffered less illnesses and were less likely to have asthma and allergies.
So how do we help the good bacteria to thrive? One of the pioneers of alternative medicine, Alfred Vogel, strongly believed that if you want to have healthy gut bacteria you need to keep the environment in your gut welcoming and balanced. This makes total sense if you think of probiotics/healthy bacteria as plants and your gut as the garden. If you are reasonably healthy and want to stay that way, or have taken probiotics but felt that they haven’t really worked, then possibly the A.Vogel product Molkosan might be a good idea for you - you can think of it as something akin to a natural fertiliser!
I think a lot more research is going to take place into the world of healthy bacteria in the next few years, and hopefully we will all benefit from the change in emphasis from waging war to creating balance. In the meantime, I’m taking probiotics washed down with molkosan or kefir regularly and eating as much sauerkraut as I can stomach!
What probiotic products and fermented foods will you find in your local wholefood shop?
Sauerkraut is now widely available (made in Ballydehob!) and is kept in the fridges of most wholefood shops locally. Eat it with sausages and mashed potatoes for an authentic German meal!
Kefir is a refreshing fermented milk drink that has a long history of use as a health-giving food. Different brands are available (we have an organic and very reasonably priced one in Organico). Alternatively ask around - you can be give Kefir Grains and can make your own drink. Call into us if you want some as we have a few customers willing to share!
Super 8s from Udos Choice are still one of the most popular wide spectrum probiotics in Organico; people take them after an antibiotic and for maintaining general health. Super 5s can be excellent for warding off sore throats and oral thrush, and bad breath. Both products should be kept in the fridge.
BioKult is a newer brand and comes recommended by many nutritional therapists. It’s main product combines 14 strains of healthy bacteria which have been shown to help general gut health. ‘Infantis’ is safe and effective for newborns, and contains omega 3, vitamin D and 7 strains of healthy bacteria. In sachet form, Infantis can be added to bottles, food or placed directly on the nipple (this is especially useful if oral thrush is a problem). ProCyan is excellent for recurring urinary tract infections and Candea can be helpful against yeast over-growths. BioKult products do not need to be kept in the fridge.
Optibac make For Women as mentioned above, Saccharomyces boulardii which can help prevent tummy bugs and should always be taken on holidays, For Cholesterol (pretty self-explanatory and worth trying as it is totally safe), and Bacteria and Fibre which seems to be very helpful for people suffering from chronic constipation. Optibac products do not need to be kept in the fridge.
And finally Molkosan from A.Vogel comes as a powder and also as a liquid. It can be gargled for sore throats and bad breath, as well as drunk for upset tummies and IBS-type symptoms. It can also be used as a fertiliser for your healthy bacteria!