What is gut flora?
Gut flora, or intestinal flora, is the natural barrier defending your intestine. It’s located throughout your intestine and is important for a number of functions:
- It plays a critical role in completing the digestive process.
- It enables the proper intake of nutritional elements from the food that you eat.
- It helps to maintain regular movement of the intestine.
- It reinforces the intestinal barrier, making the whole body more resistant to infection.
When your gut flora is disrupted, for example by illness, stress, antibiotics or diet, its composition changes, reducing the intestine’s ability to absorb fatty acids and resulting in diarrhea.
A change to your gut flora can also increase its vulnerability to aggressive pathogen bacteria, which live inside the intestine and can cause an infection and contribute to diarrhea.
Your probiotic ‘friend’
This is where topping up your probiotics can help. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts found naturally in your body, as well as in certain foods, most notably yoghurt. You can also take probiotics as food supplements. Often described as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria, probiotics are thought to help restore the natural balance of your gut flora.
Probiotics & antibiotics
Evidence suggests that probiotics are especially useful when your system is run down and you’re taking medication, in particular antibiotics. This is because antibiotics not only kill the harmful bacteria responsible for infection, but they destroy the protective bacteria in your gut flora too.
When your level of protective gut flora has been reduced, it can trigger diarrhea and other digestive upsets. Taking probiotics alongside your antibiotics is thought to help safeguard the ‘good’ bacteria in your system.
Most probiotics are categorised as food supplements rather than medicines, which means they’re used to supplement and reinforce the nutrients that you’d normally get from your diet. Adding probiotics to your daily routine can play a role in your overall digestive balance and wellbeing.
Where to find probiotics
You can find probiotic food supplements in most chemists and health food stores.
You can also find probiotics in certain yoghurts and other foods. Just check it says ‘live and active cultures’ on the label to make sure the best quality probiotics are reaching your gut. Some yoghurts without this message may be more sweetener and colouring than probiotic.23