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Probiotics: what are they, where can I get them, and how can I find them affordably?

The human gut is a marvel of science and biology. Miles long and incredibly busy all the time, the gut is the key to most of our health issues.

Here’s a quick recap of digestion 101: when we eat food, digestion begins right away. Our teeth break the food down into smaller pieces, while the saliva starts the work of liquefying the food before we swallow it. That’s why it’s so important to chew properly: the mouth is a key organ in the process and should be used properly.

Your tongue then helps drive the chewed food into the oesophagus, where powerful muscles drive it towards the stomach. This action resists the force of gravity, so while hanging upside down as you chew doesn’t help the process, it does less harm than many imagine.

Next up, the stomach. Food enters the stomach, which is a sac with valves at each end to keep it all in place. Stomach acid is released and breaks the food down further. Once the acid reaches a certain level, the second valve is opened and food moves into the intestine.

The intestine is where the real work happens. Enzyme released by the pancreas break the food down into its constituent nutrients. Small hairlike structures lining the walls of the intestines bristle and move the food along from one end of the tract to the other. Along the way, nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream and waste is taken to the relevant processing organs to be eliminated.

The intestine is also often the start of serious health conditions if it isn’t in good shape. Food that hasn’t been properly chewed, or hasn’t been subjected to enough stomach acid or digestive enzymes due to systemic health dysfunction can’t move efficiently through the digestive system. Instead, it sits in the intestine in a large, semi-digested mass. Here, it slowly rots and ferments. The resulting process causes a proliferation of bacteria that can do a lot of harm.

The good news is that the gut is home to a lot of bacteria, and all of them have a role to play. The good bacteria, or probiotics, promote blood, bone, and brain health. They help eliminate toxins and boost the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. They even play a role in the body’s ability to manufacture vitamins of its own.

WebMD describes probiotics perfectly:

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called "good" or "helpful" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.

Probiotics feed of prebiotics, so it’s important to source your probiotics with a prebiotic component, to get the most value out of them.

Source of probiotics include:

Over-the-counter probiotic supplements

Available from health shops and chemists, these supplements come in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. It’s important to read the label and see what you’re getting when you buy these. Next week we’ll look into what to look out for when buying a probiotic.

Yoghurt

Yoghurt is an potentially good source of probiotics. It is important to buy organic, full-fat yoghurt - preferably from milk obtained from free-range organic cows. Make sure it does not have added sugar and colouring, or artificial flavouring. If plain milk is too sour for you, add some honey and/or fresh fruit. Steer clear of dried fruit and artificial - well, anything. Keep it real. Better yet - make your own (we’ll show you how the week after next).

Fermented vegetables

Relatively new to our modern kitchens,fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi have actually been part of traditional cuisine for generations, and are often credited with the longevity of ancient civilisations. In a future article we’ll go into fermented vegetable recipes, options, and sources in more detail.

Kefir

Similar to yoghurt, kefir is a fermented milk product. It differs from yoghurt in how easy it is to make (very), how sour it tastes (very!), and how many probiotics and prebiotics it contains (billions). Kefir is a powerhouse of probiotics, and we’ll dedicated a whole article to this easy-to-cultivate, cost-effective source of probiotics in a couple of weeks.

Until then, keep that gut healthy and start enjoying the benefits of probiotic living as soon as you can.

Dr Alain Sanua is an experienced holistic health practitioner. He doesn’t believe in quick-and-dirty remedies aimed at masking a single set of symptoms. Instead, his approach is to understand the whole condition, and uncover the root cause of your symptoms. Call Dr Alain Sanua on on 011 463 1614 or email him on alains@telkomsa.net and get the help you need.

 

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