It feels like this latest study into the effectiveness of regular doses of an 11-strain probiotic cocktail might set the cat among the pigeons. If we are naturally resistant to new bacteria how can we evaluate the effect of probiotic rich foods and supplements?
Do probiotics work? Research from 2018 suggests that some probiotic strains might struggle to find a home in our gut, being quickly forced out by the established microbes.
Do probiotics work?
Research into the human microbiome is demonstrating that gut health is both complex and nuanced. Complex because of the sheer quality and quantity of microbes that we humans host. For example according to the Human Genome Project each of us has around 22,500 human genes, however it’s estimated that we also carry 100 times that number in microbial genes! Understanding the colonies of microbes (predominantly bacteria) inside our gut is further complicated because no two people have exactly the same gut flora. So therefore each of us has a unique bacterial ecosystem.
A research paper published in the journal Cell in September 2018 and highlighted by the BBC website, has made the claim that “Humans feature a person-specific gut mucosal colonization resistance to probiotics”. The study found that an 11-strain probiotic mix, administered for a month had almost no impact on the long term gut health of 25 participants. Either passing straight through the digestive tract or lingering for a short time before being forced out by the well established resident bacteria. Although provisional, the results are highly suggestive that the gut has a defence mechanism designed to protect itself from rapid colonization by new visitors. This is kind of intuitive, if any new bacteria that we ingested could quickly establish a foothold in our body then we would be much more vulnerable to harmful microbes.
Although this initial study hasn’t been replicated and is based on a relatively small number of people it suggests that probiotics might work best if they are tailored to each of us individually. That probiotics might offer the greatest benefit if they are designed to coexist with our unique resident populations. From a consumer’s point of view I am left thinking how might I be able to tell if the probiotics I consume are having a lasting effect without going down the road of expensive lab based testing? Hopefully further studies offering greater insight will follow.
Although it’s often a subject shunned by polite society, what happens in your bowels is becoming increasingly an object of open discussion. The growth of interest in fermentation and gut bacteria is linked to an awareness of a relationship between improved health and how what we eat is processed in our gut. It goes without saying that we are what we eat. This maxim reflects the traditional understanding that the quality of the food we consume is a factor in our health. But science is increasingly demonstrating that the nutrients contained in our meals rely on a range of microbes to extract the maximum benefit from them.
While a discussion centered on healthy eating is normally something that can be sanitized, with the microbiome (the human microbial population), sooner or later human waste has to be discussed. What happens all through the intestinal tract including the colon has a key part to play in human health. Often the state of your own faecal matter (poo) can be a good indicator of what’s going on inside you. If you have a healthy diet and your food is being digested properly, the chances are you that you have a good quality and quantity of helpful bacteria in your system. There are a number of conditions that lead to the loss of a significant proportion of useful gut bacteria, these include the overuse of antibiotics.
Faecal Microbial Transplant (FMT) is a treatment used in a limited number of clinical cases, but its application demonstrates just how crucial gut bacteria is. As its name suggests, FMT is the transplanting of bacteria and yeasts from a person with a healthy digestive function into a person that has a significant lack of the necessary microbes. When one of the world’s best triathletes, Lesley Paterson contracted Lyme Disease, she turned to FMT as an alternative solution. Lyme Disease often leads to tiredness and low energy in those infected, and antibiotics are often prescribed as part of the treatment. Antibiotics have a number of possible side effects including massive reduction in gut bacteria, often further lowering the body’s natural resistance further. In some cases FMT is thought to offer an effective yet inexpensive solution with few negative side effects. Lesley Paterson’s story can be found on the BBC website.
Lose weight, boost immunity, clear colds, increase stomach acid, feel great – Apple cider vinegar.
Here in the county of Kent, the local fermentation community have been buzzing about apple cider vinegar for some time. Kent is a ‘garden county’, it has a long standing tradition of growing fruit, in particular apples, pears, cherries and soft fruits, not to mentions hops. In fact Brogdale houses one of the UK’s largest collection of apple trees with some 2,200 different varieties on one site.
We’ve used organic apple cider vinegar regularly over the last year, it’s got a number of culinary applications but in our home its main role is as a homely remedy. In the media you will come across a number of claims for its health benefits including, treatment of cold symptoms, regulation of blood sugar, support for a healthy gut, an immunity booster and even a mediator of weight loss. Although I have seen little evidence that apple cider vinegar directly causes consumers to shed pounds, its reputation as a tonic goes from strength to strength.
My own personal use of apple cider vinegar was linked to a misdiagnosis of acid reflux. It turned out that my stomach acid levels were too low not too high or escaping. To restore the balance I took 1 tablespoon of the vinegar diluted in a small amount of water before meals. It gradually did the trick, after about ten days all the signs of acid reflux had gone, however I still take a shot of the vinegar a couple of times a week. Incidentally I have been told that acid reflux can manifest similar symptoms to low levels of stomach acid, so the two are often confused. One way to tell the difference is to look for signs of undigested food in your stools. This is normally a good indicator that what you eat isn’t being broken down fully in the stomach and can be caused by low levels of stomach acid.
As a home fermenter I was particularly interested in accounts of how to make apple cider vinegar for myself. It is definitely a little more complicated than the products I’m currently working with (soya and orange kefir, red and white cabbage, ginger) but I’m keen to give it a try. In September we can normally expect the quality and quantity of local organic apples to be at their peak, that’s when I plan to start my first batch. I’m advised that it can take anything up to 12 weeks to create. If anyone out there has some experience I’d welcome more tips or first hand accounts.
How to make simple sauerkraut, a traditional homemade fermentation recipe, suitable for beginners, inexpensive but very healthy.
This a very simple recipe illustrating how easy it is to to make healthy fermented foods. Sauerkraut is a perfect starting point for your first fermentation project, it is quick, low cost and will provide plenty of gut friendly bacteria. Those little friends will work for you, supporting your immune and digestive systems, helping you to feel great physically and mentally. This is based on a traditional recipe from my family, quite literally passed on from mother to daughter for generations. If you are interested in a technical explanation of how fermentation and probiotics works, and what the evidence is for the health benefits, follow the link to resources at the foot of the page.
around 1kg cabbage (finely sliced)
1 medium carrot (grated)
salt (unprocessed, such as sea salt, do not use table or iodised) – proportion for cabbage to salt: 1kg of cabbage to 20 grams of salt
2 bay leaves
4 allspice berries
make sure everything is perfectly clean, (the containers, utensils, work surfaces, chopping boards) as you want only good bacteria to grow
take off first layer of leaves from your cabbage, also remove any damaged leaves
finely cut or shred it
grate the carrot
mix it in a big bowl
add salt and massage it in until cabbage starts release its juice then leave it for about 10 min
you may wish to use a wooden vegetable stomper to squeeze more juice (different names for the same tool are pounder or tamper)
put 1/3 of your mixture in a ceramic pot or you can use a glass jar, just make sure it is sterilised
add 1 bay leave and 2 allspice berries
add another 1/3 of the cabbage
add 1 bay leave and 2 allspice berries
squeeze it until brine covers all of the cabbage (it needs to stay submerged throughout the fermentation process)
put the pot or jar on a plate just in case it spills out of the jar, the level will rise, if you use a glass jar don’t allow the product to make contact with a metal jar lid
you can use a weight to keep the cabbage immerse or even a small (clean) plate
Leave for 5-6 days and voila 😉
Do not use a metal bowl or metal utensils as they will react with salt, sorry to be a bore but everything must be clean, any harmful bacteria you introduce may taint the product. Make your first batch small, then scale up. Remember with fermented vegetables you win in many ways you get the nutritional value of the ingredients plus the probiotic benefits.
Please leave feedback about this or your own fermented recipe in the comments section lower down the page.