Healthy gut – healthy life

Healthy gut – healthy life

Written by APD and Accredited Sports Dietitian Amelia Webster


In a healthy digestive system there is a good balance between beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria.  In fact there are more than 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut.  In most well people who have a varied and healthy diet the body takes care of itself and keeps the beneficial good bacteria in control.


The benefits of good bacteria in our digestive system:

  • Assist with digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Reduce chance of infections from pathogens
  • Boost our immune system
  • Reduce the symptoms of IBS
  • Help keep our bowel movements regular


So how does the good bacteria get into our gut

Eating a variety of healthy foods such as wholegrains, legumes and vegetables promotes the growth of good bacteria in our digestive system.

Probiotic products contain live bacteria, some of which survive digestion and can have a beneficial effect on the friendly bacteria living in the digestive system.  There are a range of foods that contain pro-biotics, including:

  • Some yoghurts
  • Kefir
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Kim Chi
  • Sauerkraut

We can also get probiotics from supplements which come in the form of capsules, tablets and powders.


Sometimes the balance gets thrown out

A bad diet, stress, illness and some medications can lead to an excess of bad bacteria.  When the balance is thrown out, it can affect our health, immune system function and mood.  When this happens probiotic supplementation may be required to help the good bacteria in our gut fight back.  In particular, research has shown that probiotics are beneficial when taking antibiotics and can help prevent antibiotic induced diarrhoea.


Potential side effects

When first starting to use probiotics, users can experience mild gas and bloating.  If you have a weakened immune system due to organ transplant, HIV or short bowel syndrome you should discuss probiotic use with your health professional before commencing supplementation.


Probiotics & athletes

Probiotics have been shown to reduce the frequency, severity and length of illnesses including respiratory tract infections in athletes.  This reduces the need for athletes to miss extensive blocks of training due to illness.  For athletes with a history of recurrent illness, pre-emptive probiotic supplementation prior to periods of very heavy training, travel and competition periods may reduce the likelihood of illness.  For some athletes, gradually introducing probiotics into the diet over one to two weeks can minimise the symptoms of increased gas and stool changes that some people experience when starting antibiotic supplementation.


The verdict

For most well people probiotic supplementation should not be required.  Eating a healthy diet and occasionally including probiotic foods in the diet helps keep the gut healthy.  But if you have been on antibiotics, have had gut issues/ illness or are an athlete about to travel or increase training loads, short term probiotic supplementation may be very useful.

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