A healthy and balanced diet, as well as probiotics, have been known to be helpful in preserving gastrointestinal health for quite a long time. But it is only recently that the underlying mechanisms have become somewhat clearer. A rapidly increasing body of knowledge promises to further clarify the effects of our daily food on the gut microbiota and to indicate more targeted applications of probiotics in the near future.
On March 8-9, 2014, internationally leading experts discussed the latest advances in gut microbiota research and its impact on health at the Gut Microbiota for Health World Summit in Miami, Florida.
Diet is key when it comes to preserving our gastrointestinal health. Through eating and digesting we feed our gut microbiota and influence its diversity and composition. If this balance is disturbed, it could result in a number of disorders including functional bowel disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases and other immune diseases, such as celiac disease and certain allergies. Also, metabolic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, and perhaps even behavioral disorders, such as autism and depression, can be linked to gut microbial imbalances.
Although a disrupted microbial equilibrium can have many causes -- infectious pathogens or use of antibiotics among them -- the role of our daily food and lifestyle is crucial.
According to experts, a diet high in animal fat, as well as of greasy and fried foods, is not recommended, while a diet rich in vegetables, salads and fruits has proven to be beneficial to digestive health under normal circumstances. The same applies to fermented dairy products containing probiotics.
The challenge, say researchers, is to clearly determine which organisms are beneficial and exert a preventive or therapeutic effect.
How probiotics benefit health
Probiotics can influence our health in various ways. Some, for example, can keep pathogens at bay. By improving the integrity of the intestinal barrier, probiotics defend us against disease-causing microorganisms trying to invade.
Probiotics also strengthen the immune system by stimulating immune mechanisms inside and outside the gut. They also help to regulate gut motility and act as anti-inflammatory compounds in the gut, which have effects beyond the gut.
Probiotics are beneficial at all stages of life, including the very early ones. Studies have shown probiotics to improve gastroenteritis, colic, eczema and diarrhea in children. And according to several prevention studies, probiotics, such as the thoroughly investigated Lactobacillus rhamnosus, may support disease prevention in children who have a reduced microbiota diversity because they are not breast-fed, have been exposed to antibiotics or are born via Caesarean section. In all these cases, the development of a rich and balanced gut microbiota is likely to be delayed or impeded.
Experts also say probiotics can benefit immune-compromised individuals, who are prone to bacterial infections.
The microbial communities that reside in the gut and their impact on human health and disease are one of the most exciting new areas of research today.
Source: The American Gastroenterological Association, March 2014.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.