Did you know that gut health plays a pivotal role in your body’s well-being? 

Your gastrointestinal tract not only digests foods and processes nutrients; it also fights diseases. Thus, if you fail to keep your gut healthy, you risk becoming sick, so it pays to invest in your prolonged gut health.

When we talk about ‘gut health’, we refer to the bacteria in the microbiome. The gut has trillions of both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ bacteria that help the body process food, maintain homeostasis and our well-being. Both keep each other in check, but when the balance gets skewed, your health deteriorates.

This guide will help you better understand some of the core concepts around maintaining a healthy gut within an Irish context, outlining the core benefits in doing so and exploring some of the reasons why you might aspire to better gut health and how the right blend of probiotics, food supplements and healthy eating habits can assist you in that objective.

How the Gut Microbiome Affects Your Body Health

The human gut microbiome has over a thousand different bacteria species that play various roles. Some species are beneficial, while others cause diseases. In short, the gut microbiome plays a significant role in your health, and it would be difficult to survive without it.

Below are a few key ways in which the gut microbiome affects your health:

Brain Health

New research suggests that the gut microbiome has a way to communicate with the brain. Some of the good gut flora in your body help in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (an antidepressant neurotransmitter). 

There are also some suspicions that the balance of your microbiome contributes to conditions like depression, autism, stress levels and anxiety.

Gut Health

The microbiome can also affect your gut health, depending on the bacteria that dominate your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Harmful species will even play a role in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, bloating, and cramps. 

Certain species that are found in yogurt and probiotics can help prevent leaky gut syndrome and disease-causing bacteria.

Reduces the Risk of Diabetes

The type of bacteria in your gut can determine whether you increase your risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Not having a diverse microbiome is linked with type 1 diabetes. 

The gut microbiome is also responsible for controlling blood sugar, meaning the production of short chain fatty acids in the gut along with other mechanisms play a role in the control of blood sugars.

Weight Gain

Having a well balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise is key to maintaining a healthy weight. Optimising your gut microbiombe by taking a food supplement such as Symprove which is available at Meagher's Pharmacy. 

This is something that will benefit you on your weight-loss journey to ensure that your gut microbiome is as healthy as it can be as it is involved in fundamental metabolic, nutritional and immune system functions.

Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

The gut acts as our ‘second brain’ and you can tell whether its function has been compromised by looking out for the following signs.

Stomach Discomfort

Stomach discomfort is the number one sign of compromised gut health. You’ll experience bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea, or even heartburn in most cases.

So, if you are suffering from any form of GI discomfort, then you might be having a problem with your gut.

Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a common symptom among people with imbalances in the gut microbiome. 

If your gut is unhealthy, you’re going to have unexplained fatigue and some sluggishness. Remember that fatigue is also one of the tell-tale signs of IBS and should never go unchecked for prolonged periods.

Allergies

An unhealthy gut can trigger the onset of allergic conditions or even worsen pre-existing allergies. 

Once the equilibrium gets skewed, your body might start developing skin allergies, food allergies, and respiratory allergies as well.

Skin Irritation

Skin conditions are likely to manifest themselves when you have a damaged gut. A good example is eczema (or dermatitis), a condition that can arise when you have gut inflammation. 

Inflammation and permeability in the gut can also increase the leakage of various proteins, which can, in turn, trigger many forms of skin irritation including acne, blemishes, rashes and flare ups.

Weight Changes

Many of the very worst foods for gut health are known to promote unhealthy gut bacteria that cause unintentional weight changes. This explains why there are notable differences in the gut microbiomes of both obese and lean people. 

As with any health-centric diet, it’s important to keep tabs on what you eat, and we’re strong advocates of a low-cholesterol approach to all that you eat.

Food Intolerance

Food intolerance can be characterised by unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea.

People who have gut problems tend to experience food intolerance in different ways. This problem comes up when your GI tract has difficulty digesting specific foods especially milk by-products.

Sleep Disturbances

Beyond managing the inherent pain and bloating discomfort, an unhealthy gut can contribute to poor sleep habits and disruptive patterns caused by ailments such as sleep apnoea (apnea) or insomnia.

As the gut helps in the production of serotonin, a hormone that affects sleep, any damage to the gut will lead to a detrimental impact on sleep quality.

How to Improve Gut Bacteria

Naturally, the more we cultivate an environment for the ‘good’ bacteria to thrive, the better our microbiomes will perform. 

Here are a few medically-reviewed and approved proactive measures to help you restore and improve your gut health on an ongoing basis.

Eat Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotics are ideal for promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. They are commonly found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. 

Unlike other foods, prebiotics can only be broken down by specific species of bacteria. This means that prebiotics cannot be absorbed in the small intestine. Instead, they are passed down to the colon and used as fuel by good bacteria such as Bifidobacteria which help power digestion and fend off harmful bacteria.

Eat a Plant-Based Diet

Your gut microbiota is more likely to benefit from plant-based or vegetarian diets than animal-based foods. Plant-based diets contain higher fiber content levels that are essential in promoting beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Some studies also show that plant-based and vegan diets can help reduce disease-causing microorganisms, cholesterol levels, obesity, and inflammation.

Take a Probiotic Supplement

Probiotic supplements contain bacteria which have proved to be vital when it comes to changing the composition of your gut microbiota. In case your gut health is compromised, the consumption of a probiotic should improve it.

Symprove is one of the most reliable supplements and is unique in that it contains live and active bacteria. 

The Symprove formula should help in restoring and maintaining a healthy gut balance. Be careful when purchasing supplements because not all are high quality and not all contain live and active bacteria.

Consume Foods that are Rich in Polyphenols

Polyphenol foods are known to have lasting effects in terms of reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

As is the case with prebiotics, most polyphenols will make their way to the large intestines, where they will be broken down and used by healthy gut bacteria cells. Certain Polyphenols should help boost the number of lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria in the microbiome.

Some staple foods found in Irish pantries that are rich in Polyphenols include:

  • Broccoli
  • Onions
  • Green tea
  • Almonds
  • Blueberries
  • Cocoa
  • Red wine

Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Sugary foods and artificial sweeteners are known to promote the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut. 

As such, slashing your intake of such foods will promote healthier intestinal bacteria to help restore your gut’s overall microbiome balance.

Eat Whole Grains

Whole grains are ideal for promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. Whole-grain foods contain non-digestible carbs and lots of fiber. These carbs are passed down to the colon, where they are digested and absorbed by the microbiota.

Some of the good bacteria in the body that benefit from the microorganisms found within whole grains are Bacteroidetes, Lactobacilli, and Bifidobacteria.

Consume Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are rich in lactobacilli and are good at promoting the growth of good bacteria. Some of these superfoods also help in suppressing disease-causing bacteria. 

A decent selection of fermented foods readily found in Ireland nowadays include:

  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Yogurt
  • Milk Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Acidophilus milk

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are a combination of good bacteria and yeast that exist within your body’s digestive tract. The beneficial microbes help you feel better and fight off disease-causing bacteria.

Keep in mind that your microbiome contains both good and bad bacteria. However, probiotics are solely made up of beneficial bacteria. Some of the common probiotic bacteria are bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. 

Probiotics also contain yeast such as saccharomyces boulardii. Coupled with Protozoa and Viruses, this unique and complex mix of microbes forms your microbiome’s diverse biochemistry.

How do Probiotics Work?

Probiotics' main role is to support a healthy balance in your body. If the bad bacteria interfere with the equilibrium, your body will become sick. It is the work of the good bacteria to suppress the disease-causing bacteria and restore the balance.

Besides supporting your immune function, good bacteria can also help in digestion, break down and absorb medication, prevent harmful bacteria from entering your bloodstream, create vitamins and keep bad bacteria in control.

Are Probiotics the Same as Prebiotics?

Probiotics and prebiotics are often at the center of discussion when talking about gut health. The truth is that both have a role to play in promoting the growth of healthy bacteria. However, probiotics are not the same as prebiotics.

For starters, prebiotics are special plant fibers that act as nourishment for good bacteria. On the other hand, probiotics are living strains of bacteria that make up the population of beneficial bacteria.

In simple terms, probiotics and other recommended gut health supplements and foods help multiply the good soldiers, while prebiotics provide support and nutrients to the beneficial microbes.

How to Choose the Best Probiotics for You

Now that probiotics have become a hot product in the market, choosing the right one can be hectic. You can find probiotics almost everywhere, but not all are going to benefit your body. A doctor can help you identify the best probiotic supplement. However, you can still use the following tips to help you find the best fit for you.

Stick to Well-Established Brands

Probiotic products are yet to be approved by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), meaning you have to do due diligence before buying one. It doesn’t matter if you are buying online or from your local store; the rule remains the same — always buy from a trusted, well-known brand.

If you are based here in Ireland, you’re best advised buying Symprove as gastroenterologists, nutritional therapists, and registered dietitians have endorsed it and Symprove has won various food and health awards since its inception in 2010.

Always Read the Label

The label on every probiotic supplement sold in Ireland contains vital information that should help you know if it aligns with your health needs. 

Get to know the strains and species included in the product. A good supplement should have multiple strains coming from the most common species (Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium).

Make sure you check whether the product contains live and active bacterial cultures as well.

Third-Party Testing

As much as the FSAI does not regulate probiotic supplements, it’s advised that you go for a third-party tested product. Reputable international brands such as Symprove will have their products tested for potency, composition, and criteria.

Consume Probiotic Foods

It is always best to get as much as we can from our food and in order to do so try fermented food. 

However, getting everything you need from your food may not always be possible and taking a supplement ensures you are getting exactly what you need each day.

Best Probiotic for Gut Health

With the above information, choosing a good probiotic for your GI tract should be easy. For those who don't have the time to go through multiple supplements that contain the good bacteria that you need, Symprove is your best bet.

Symprove is an increasingly popular food supplement brand in the UK and here in Ireland and has received lots of positive reviews. Health and wellness professionals have been vouching for this food supplement that contains live and active bacteria for years now and we cover the 12-week programme in-depth on our own site.

What Makes Symprove so Special?

Unlike most supplements, Symprove is a water-based food supplement that will make it to the colon without being affected by the digestive enzymes. In simpler terms, the live and active cultures will arrive in the stomach, survive digestion, make it into the colon, thrive, and nourish the good gut bacteria.

In addition, Symprove has four strains of live and active bacteria, meaning that your gut microbiome stands to benefit a lot.

Incorporating Symprove into your daily health regime should be a walk in the park. You just need to take 70ml of the supplement every morning. Keep in mind that Symprove should be taken on an empty stomach.

The other good thing about Symprove is that it delivers up to 10 billion CFUs per 70ml. These are enough CFUs for you to get good results.

How to Safely Use Probiotics

With the limited health information on probiotics, you might wonder if it’s possible to have an overdose. To clear things up, you should understand that probiotics are natural supplements. Anyone can take them as part of a daily health regime or in conjunction with other stomach and gut medications found in Ireland.

You can opt to take the supplements daily or randomly. Different companies will give you a plan on how you should consume their probiotic products. All in all, there is no specific way to use probiotics; you can even choose to take them periodically or when the body needs them.

Is it OK to Take a Probiotic Every Day?

Taking a probiotic supplement every day should not have any negative effect on your body. In fact, you are more likely to benefit from a probiotic if you take it every day. This study shows that strains found in these products can take up to one week to colonise the gut.

Unfortunately, the same strains can be wiped out in a matter of 7 days once you stop taking the probiotic. These findings are an indication that consistently taking a probiotic supplement could have a long-lasting effect on your health.

Probiotics Side Effects

As much as probiotics have various health benefits, it’s possible to experience side effects as well. Below are a few side effects that could potentially manifest in people who actively consume probiotics.

Digestive Symptoms

Digestive symptoms are common among people who are trying these supplements for their first time. Some of these digestive problems include bloating, diarrhea, and increased gas production. 

These symptoms can be an indicator that the probiotics are working. If that’s the case, the side effects should clear up within a week. If not, please consult a GP.

Increased Risk of Infection

As much as probiotics are safe to use, they might cause problems for those with weak immune systems and severe illnesses. Such people are likely to be exposed to bacteria or fungal infections after taking probiotics.

If you are using any form of antifungal medication, you should avoid taking these supplements until the infection clears up.

People with severe medical conditions of any sort should consult with their doctor before they start taking probiotics.

Skin Problems

Although skin problems are pretty rare when using probiotics, few people might experience a skin rash. Others might also develop itchiness as a side effect. The skin conditions might clear as your body gets used to the supplement.

Allergy Risk

Anyone with food intolerance or other allergies might want to proceed with caution when shopping for probiotic foods or supplements. Always opt for allergen-free products, but it’s also good to check the ingredient lists to ensure that all the contents are safe.

You should cease taking the probiotic immediately and consult your doctor if you start experiencing an allergic reaction.

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

By now, you already know that the large and small intestines usually carry different species of bacteria. If the bacteria species from the colon find their way into the small intestine, you are said to be suffering from SIBO.

Clinical trials in the US suggest that there is a possible link between Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth and probiotic supplementation. SIBO mainly affects people with brain fogginess.

SIBO has similar symptoms with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, meaning you should seek the service of a health expert to know what you are suffering from.

The Meaghers Verdict

It is evident that a healthy gut is directly related to various health benefits, including mental health, heart health, and brain health. 

There’s a broad variety of food and supplement choices you can make to give your gut the best possible chance of performing its duties efficiently for the long haul as your body evolves through life’s stages and you have to play your part in maintaining your gut's healthy bacteria balance by consuming a finely-tuned balance of probiotic foods and supplements along the way.

Contact Us to Discuss Your Gut Health Needs

We’re confident this guide has equipped you with the required guidance to understand the various benefits to maintaining a healthy gut and the options available to Irish consumers for improving your gut health.

As ever, if you’ve got any questions for our team on the topic of gut health or any other healthy living, supplements or medicinal topics, please contact us today and we’d be more than happy to assist and provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision on the best path forward for your health and happiness!