Probiotics, or good bacteria, are live microorganisms that replenish “good” bacteria found in our guts and provide positive health benefits when taken in adequate amounts.
Probiotics play various roles in our bodies by helping to digest food that cannot break down efficiently, increasing the body’s metabolism by extracting more energy from food nutrients, producing B vitamins, eliminating toxins, and helping maintain intestinal wall integrity.
Researchers are looking into how these probiotics can influence and improve our health. The Health Facts 2017 by Ministry of Health (MOH) stated digestive system diseases were the fourth cause of hospitalisation in private hospitals, seventh cause of hospitalisation in MOH hospitals, and sixth cause of death recorded in both MOH and private hospitals.
Based on a local research in 2017 by the Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (PPUKM), one in nine Malaysians suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)¹.
IBS patients also normally suffer from other digestive-related disorders such as constipation, diarrhoea, stomach discomfort, bloating, or a combination. The research also investigated how probiotics (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus paracasei) could benefit both local healthy research subjects and research subjects with IBS.
Good For Digestive Health
Consultant physician and gastroenterologist from Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz, PPUKM, Associate Professor Dr Raja Affendi Raja Ali explained:
“We (the research team) found improvements on what we tested for, including intestinal transit time (the time taken from eating food until it is eliminated), diarrhoea and constipation symptoms, stool ‘hardness’, and also time spent in the toilet.”
Significant findings and improvements found that:
• 96% research subjects reported improvements in constipation symptoms;
• 45% research subjects spent less than 10 minutes in the toilet;
• 36% research subjects had lesser straining when going to toilet;
• 31% research subjects experienced much softer stools;
• 33% faster food digestion time from 20-45 hours and reduced by five-15 hours;
• 73% research subjects with IBS benefited from enhanced immunity as the body produces less pro-inflammatory chemicals, which reduces inflammation and enhances the immune system.
“Our gut is home to a large and intricate community of microorganisms,” Dr Raja Affendi continued.
“From the research, the two probiotic strains had a positive influence on all our research subjects’ digestive health. Thus, a healthy lifestyle depends not only on eating healthily and getting enough exercise, sleep, and water – we have to keep the balance of the good and bad bacteria in our gut.”
Good For The Immune System
The gut is also the body’s first line of defence against infections. Dr Raja Affendi added, “Our digestive system represents around 80% of the body’s immune system, thus we wanted to learn more about how probiotics affects it.
“We looked at three pro-inflammatory cytokines produced in the body, namely Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Interleukin-8 (IL-8), and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha. High levels of these cytokines indicate high levels of inflammation, which is not desirable.”
The research revealed that consuming cultured milk drinks containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus paracasei for 30 days led to significant reduction of IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-alpha among research subjects.
As high as 73% IBS research subjects benefited from enhanced immunity. “These findings all support the fact that probiotics are beneficial to digestive health and our body’s immune system,” he stated.
Maintaining Digestive Health
Consuming probiotics regularly helps ensure good digestive health. Dr Raja Affendi recommends having probiotic-rich foods in our diet regularly. These include cultured milk drinks, tempeh, kimchi, home-made yoghurt (tairu), and tapai pulut.
“You will need to constantly replenish the good bacteria in your gut in order to maintain a balanced gut microbiota.”
One should also eat sufficient amounts of dietary fibre as these help regulate bowel movement, increase stool bulk, thus lowering one’s risk of digestive problems. Prebiotics dietary fibres found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, are necessary for the good bacteria feed on them.
“Don’t neglect the other basic healthy lifestyle factors – eating right, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress. Changing our lifestyle is never easy but necessary.
“Furthermore by taking probiotics, it helps to maintain the balance of gut microbiota, which will further optimise and improve our digestive health and overall health. The results are definitely worth the effort,” he concluded.
■ This article is the courtesy of Vitagen Healthy Digestion Programme. For details, contact 03-5632 3301. Associate Professor Dr Raja Affendi Raja Ali is a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (PPUKM). He is not associated with, and does not endorse any brand or product.
Reference: [¹] Mokhtar N, Jaafar NM, Chan S, et al IDDF2018-ABS-0203 Modulation of intestinal dysbiosis in patients with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome using lactobacillus-containing cultured milk drink. Gut 2018;67:A70.