My verdict on probiotics (clue: it’s not what the papers say)

The Good Life Letter 

21st September 2018

  • Should you throw away that ‘healthy’ yoghurt?
  • My verdict on probiotics (clue: it’s not what the papers say)
  • Research reveals amazing links between your gut and your overall health
Uh-oh, I can sense another food fight coming on.

And as usual I am going to wade in, sleeves rolled up.

I don’t fight in real life. My rugby days are long gone. But when it comes to natural health I’m still a right bruiser.
As you remember, in the summer I was sticking up for omega-3 supplements.

A bunch of mainstream newspapers went nuts about new research suggesting that they don’t prevent heart attacks, and it’s all pointless.

Blah blah. We’ve seen this so many times before with fats, carbohydrates, superfoods…

Build ‘em up in the press then knock ‘em down again.

Of course, there are lots of rubbish omega-3 supplements stuffed with ingredients that have little to do with fish. So no wonder most don’t work well.

Others are stuck on shelves for so long, going rancid and causing harmful effects. Some are contaminated with toxins.

The list goes on…

Which is why I recommended that you try this instead: krill oil.

It’s an ethical source of high omega-3 content oil with antioxidants and astaxanthin which can improve your brain function, protect your joints and cartilage, reduce inflammation, and protect against heart disease, stroke, macular degeneration, and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Anyway, that was the summer fight…

Step forward autumn’s big challenger in the natural health fight.

This time…

Probiotics: Good…? Or POINTLESS?

You’ll have noticed that probiotics have become huge in the past decade.

If you’d asked me twenty years ago what ‘probiotics’ were I’d have probably said it had something to do with Robot Wars or chemical weapons.

Anyway, they’re all the rage now.

Possibly you’ve seen probiotic yoghurt ads (Yakult being the most famous), as well as a trend for fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha.

The promise…?

That they’ll help maintain healthy gut flora.

The debate…?

Do they really work?

Well, no, said an article in The Telegraph on 10th September. 

It revealed results of Israeli research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where scientists tested a probiotic cocktail on 25 volunteers.

In roughly half of the volunteers, the good bacteria passed right through the body. In the other half, the bacteria lingered before being engulfed by other microbes.

Many scientists have been gunning for probiotics for a while, so this was great news for them.

To paraphrase…

“Get rid of probiotic drinks and take some lovely pills instead!”

But should you ignore probiotics?

No, says Professor Tim Spector, who researches Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College, London.

He told The Telegraph that, yes, the research does add some complexity to the situation. It indicates that it might not be the case that probiotics take over the gut when you drink them, making you instantly healthy…


If you regularly take probiotics, it should keep the good bacteria in your system and, long term, the benefits could be significant.

He added: “There is plenty of evidence to say that if you're ill, if you have a minor illness [and you take probiotics] you will improve. These include travellers' diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome, and there's evidence for depression. There's evidence for all kinds of childhood problems, and some food allergies.”

Finally, he makes this point…

Why some doctors don’t really ‘get’ probiotics.

In Britain, probiotic foods and remedies aren’t very familiar to medical professionals.

This notion of ‘good bacteria’ is quite new and not something your GP will ever mention.

But not so everywhere else…

In France, doctors often prescribe probiotics to people with colds and also people taking antibiotics.

In Poland, people who are on antibiotics are routinely given the fermented milk drink, kefir.

“Our doctors would laugh if you said you were going to do that,” said Professor Spector. “The UK particularly has no culture of fermented foods.”

He suggests that if we increase the level of fermented foods regularly in our diets, we’ll get a long-term benefit from them…

Namely, it will help keep your balance of gut microbes healthy.

And this is important…

Why gut bacteria are central to good health

A lot of evidence links gut bacteria to an array of common ailments, diseases, and psychological conditions.

•    In 2016, research in the journal Cell linked Parkinson’s disease to bacteria living in the gut. The theory is that it starts in the gut and travels up to the brain.

  • A University of Texas study has shown that defects in the body’s regulatory T cells cause inflammation and autoimmune disease by changing your gut bacteria. Replacing missing bacteria could help sufferers with some forms of autoimmune disease.

  • In 2015 scientists found evidence linking anxiety and depression to the presence of certain kinds of bacteria in the intestines.

  • Arthritis – an international group of scientists is working on ways to use protective gut microbes to tackle rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Professor John Cryan of University College Cork says: “We now know that good brain health depends on good gut health. The gut microbiome affects every aspect of brain functioning and human behaviour.”

So we KNOW that the gut is to blame for a lot of problems… and could be the solution to a lot of problems too.
Why, then, the attack on probiotics?

It’s fine for the experts to question how effectively they stay in your system, but to declare that they’re utterly pointless is dangerous and irresponsible.

Plenty of countries use probiotic foods for health and it’s not all about throwing Yakult down your throat every now and then.

Try and add the following to your diet in the next month and see what happens:

  • Natural yoghurt
  • Miso soup
  • Coconut water
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sourdough bread

Also add ‘prebiotics’ to your diet. These are foods that nourish the microbiomes in your gut, including:

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Dandelion greens
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onion
  • Bananas
  • Legumes

See for yourself what a boost to your gut health can do, before you worry about the latest splash in the Telegraph or Mail.

It’s highly likely they’ll publish a ‘probiotics are good for you’ article or ‘10 reasons to eat fermented food’ within the month.

And so the merry-go-round continues!

Oh, and if you want to know how to MAKE your own fermented drinks at home then stay tuned, as I’m putting something together for next week.

Yours, as always

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