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Friendly Bacteria for Your Health

Dr. Deeksha Sharma -- Not all bacteria are harmful. Here's why probiotics and prebiotics are critical for good health and digestion.

Probiotics are live micro-organisms (especially bacteria) similar to the trillions of beneficial microorganisms that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract of your body. These friendly bacteria help with digestion, keep bowel motion regular, facilitate better absorption of vitamins and minerals, improve energy levels, and are found associated with lower risk of diabetes, obesity and colon cancer. They also provide protection from harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Ecoli and improve your immunity against various infections and allergies.

A regular supply of probiotics will help in keeping up the count of these good bacteria. However, it's not easy to get readymade probiotics. First it's difficult to select proper strains of bacteria that match exactly with your intestinal flora. Further, these live bacteria are very sensitive and can be destroyed during handling, processing and storage. However, by taking a regular dose of "prebiotics" you can facilitate good bacteria in your intestinal flora. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates or soluble fibres that act as food for probiotics and don't get affected by heat, cold, acid or time. The most common are fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides found in whole grains (e.g., wheat, oats); legumes (e.g., soyabean); honey; vegetables (e.g., onion, garlic, tomatoes); and fruits (e.g., banana). Prebiotics help create "normobiosis" in your gut "ecosystem," where micro-organisms with health benefits get nourishment and predominate over harmful ones. Besides changing the composition, prebiotics also influence activity of the gastrointestinal microflora to offer health benefits.

A synergistic combination of probiotics (live bacteria) and prebiotics (fuel to thrive on) is called synbiotic. Fermented foods are good examples of synbiotic foods that are beneficial for your health. In India, most commonly used fermented dairy product is curd that uses culture of lactobacillus bacteria. Other common nutritionally rich Indian recipes that use fermentation of cereals and legumes include, idli, dosa, dhokla. Sugar and refined flour found in processed food are the food for bad bacteria and create "dysbiosis," a disease-prone situation where potentially harmful micro-organisms are dominant. So avoid regular consumption of processed food to nourish good bacteria in your intestinal flora.

Also if you are on antibiotics you need extra amount of these friendly bacteria to recover the loss of good bacteria in your gut. Besides diet your regular exercise routine also helps in keeping up the count of these healthy bacteria.

Regular consumption of prebiotics and synbiotics will help you be friend with helpful bacteria that colonize your body and live a healthy life.

Dr. Deeksha Sharma, Ph.D. Nutrition, writes articles on healthy lifestyle and preventive care for Mvirtualhealth aims to improve your health by providing you customized health services such as your personalized health report and risk for chronic diseases, e.g., heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gall bladder disease, and certain cancers. On you can also subscribe to daily health tips; browse latest health news and articles to improve your health and prevent chronic diseases and much more.

© 2013 Dr. Deeksha Sharma

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