The word “probiotic” literally means “for life”; but the term usually refers to supplements that contain living, beneficial bacteria. Billions of these friendly bacteria from more than 400 different species occur naturally in a healthy digestive system, with most living in the intestines, where they are sometimes called “intestinal flora”.
These bacteria support general wellbeing in several ways, such as assisting digestion and helping to maintain immunity. However, they can be very sensitive to changes in their environment, and some lifestyle factors (see below) can significantly reduce their numbers. Supplementing with a concentrated probiotic can help during times when levels of intestinal flora are low.
What can lower the body’s natural levels of beneficial bacteria?
Many lifestyle factors can change the environmental conditions inside the digestive and intestinal system and make it less welcoming for friendly bacteria. Some of these include:
- Antibiotic use (antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria)
- Certain medications, e.g. steroids or the Oral Contraceptive Pill
- Frequent alcohol consumption
- Stress or aging
How do probiotics keep me healthy?
Friendly bacteria can help to maintain general health and wellbeing in many ways. They support healthy liver function, which in turn helps the body to rid itself of toxins. They assist with the digestive process, aiding the body in absorbing a full range of nutrients; supporting regular elimination; and actually producing some of the critical B vitamins that the body requires.
Some intestinal flora can also help to maintain healthy immunity: both by using up resources that harmful bacteria, yeasts and fungi would need to flourish, and by producing substances that actively deter these micro-organisms.