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nutrition

The Power of Probiotics - What are they and why are they good for you

  • October 17, 2018
  • 4 min read

From boosting immunity to improving digestion, probiotics have been touted as the “superhero” of the gut bacteria underworld. And yet, there’s a lot we still don’t know about probiotics because the research is just heating up.

Our gut is often referred to as our second brain.  It’s why we get a ‘gut feeling’ about something when we’re making difficult decisions, those butterflies in our stomach when we’re nervous, or the ‘kick in the guts’ when something bad happens.

Our brain and gut are connected by the nervous system and research is uncovering how changes in our gut can affect us emotionally, physically and in our behaviour.

A healthy gut is important for a healthy you as the gut and brain are also connected through our immune system by trillions of neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that can boost and balance signals between nerve cells. Some neurotransmitters produced in the brain help control feelings and emotions and the same neurotransmitters are also produced in the gut.

However, many consumers are confused about exactly what gut health foods they should be consuming. So, as with many aspects of their life, they’re doing their own research online and making decisions based on those findings. What was once considered a little left-field is now finding social acceptance in the mainstream (think kombucha, kimchi, kefir). When someone five years ago said they were gluten-free, eyes may have rolled. But not now.

How probiotics help gut health

These days probiotics has become somewhat of a buzz word. From boosting immunity to improving digestion, probiotics have been touted as the “superhero” of the gut bacteria underworld.

Basically, probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts which are especially good for our gut health.  There are trillions of bacteria living in our digestive systems – this is our gut microbiome which helps us digest food and can protect us from invading bad bacteria. 

Dr James Dekker, Programme Manager at Fonterra’s Research and Development Centre says we are reaching a cross roads when it comes to the study of gut bacteria.

There is a lot of work going on right now into the gut brain axis, how does what happens in our gut affect our brain and vice versa? It’s an exciting area of research and dairy has a big role to play.

James Dekker, Programme Manager, Fonterra Research and Development Centre

“Everybody has a unique gut make up, so how one person reacts to a certain strain of probiotics could be quite different to how another person reacts. This can make studying the effects of these bacteria challenging.”

Palmerston North is home to some of the world’s best probiotics, more than 300 strains are currently growing and multiplying at the Microbial Fermentation Unit (MFU), at Fonterra’s Research & Development Centre.

Mark Piper, Fonterra’s Director Group Research and Development says Fonterra has proven success when it comes to probiotics and is partnering with the Universities of Auckland and Otago to further understand their benefits.

“To date our LactoB 001 (DR20TM), has been clinically proven to help treat children’s eczema, and also given some indications that it can reduce post-natal depression by 50% and gestational diabetes by 68%.”

 “Our commercialised probiotic strain BifidoB 019 (DR10TM) can be found commercially in Symbio yoghurt and Anmum. Given its proven benefits, many of our customers also use this strain in their food and beverage products.”
 

Probiotics and yoghurt

Yoghurt is thought to have been discovered in Central Asia around 6000 BC by herdsmen, who found milk being carried in containers curdled and changed into a substance that lasted longer. Nowadays, many yoghurts are regarded as a superfood full of probiotics – live bacteria that are especially good for our digestive system.

Probiotic dairy is a mature market in Europe and the USA and is growing in market share across Asia. According to the December 2018 New Nutrition Business survey most consumers think probiotics are good for reducing bloating and increasing physical energy. Other reasons consumers take them include improving digestion, immunity, weight management, and heart health while some specific strains of yoghurt bacteria/probiotics have been shown to improve lactose digestion in lactose-intolerant people.

With the wide range of yoghurts available, it can be difficult to decide which one is the right for you. Greek yoghurt is generally higher in protein than traditional yoghurt. Plain Greek yoghurt is also lower in sugar and carbohydrates.

Yoghurt opened the eyes of consumers to products like kefir cultured, fermented drink. Kefir is made by adding live yeast and bacteria cultures to cow’s milk and leaving it to ferment. It has grown in popularity due to the good bacteria it contains, supporting digestive health.