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Is bacteria good or bad for bloating?
Posted 5 years ago by Jo
All the talk of bacteria can get ever so confusing. We are constantly being told, from childhood, to wash our hands, keep ourselves and our homes clean, use disinfectant to kill germs...then on the other hand we are becoming increasingly aware that bacteria is also very good for us.
Here I hope to clear things up a bit, helping you to firstly understand the role bacteria plays in our lives, secondly assess the role bacteria may play in bloating, and lastly explore some ways that supplementation with good bacteria may help to relieve bloating. I aim to set the context by explaining a bit about the history of germs and bacteria, and how the theories of good (probiotic) and bad (pathogenic) bacteria have come about.
The Germ Theory was developed in Europe and the United States in the mid-1800s, and states that many diseases are caused by the presence and actions of specific micro-organisms, such as bacteria, within the body. Louis Pasteur (of pasteurisation fame) provided scientific proof for the Germ Theory in the 1860's. Germ Theory provides the basis for much of the conventional medicine model we see today.
Thoughts are however progressively starting to change regarding this theory, both by the medical profession and complementary practitioners. It is increasingly believed that the overall condition of the terrain also plays a significant role in how an organism responds to various stimulii/external bacteria/viruses etc. Therefore if a person is healthy with a strong immune system (supported by a healthy balance of gut bacteria), they are better armed to resist infection from pathogenic bacteria and viruses and becoming ill is not necessarily a fait accompli after exposure.
We live in an age of increasing hygiene and a sense of being overtly 'clean'. As a result, this is believed to have an impact on our health and our immune systems. The 'Hygiene Hypothesis' is the theory stating that a lack of exposure to infectious agents such as bacteria and parasites in early childhood may increase our risk of developing allergic disease, such as asthma and eczema, by suppressing the natural development of our immune systems. We know that gut bacteria comprises a significant part of our immune system, and there is a belief that reducing exposure to bacteria with sterilisation, anti-bacterial gels & washes and disinfectants may ultimately have a negative impact on our health.
Antibacterials soaps & gels may reduce our exposure to immune-supporting bacteria
Is bacteria bad for bloating?
We all naturally have trillions of bacteria in our gut, some good (probiotic), some neutral, and some bad (pathogenic), and it is the balance of this bacteria that is so important. Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance of bacteria in our digestive system, and can occur due to a number of diet and lifestyle factors, such as taking certain medications, stress, poor diet, excess alcohol consumption etc. Antibiotics, for example, are very effective at killing pathogenic bacteria and helping to reduce infection, but unfortunately they are often unselective and can also kill off beneficial bacteria, therefore upsetting the important balance.
Antibiotics may cause an imbalance in levels of good and bad bacteria
An overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, known as Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), can be a cause of bloating. Levels of bacteria are usually lower in the small intestine (and are predominantly found in higher numbers in the large intestine) but when the numbers of bacteria increase it can trigger digestive symptoms, such as bloating. It is believed that many people diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) may in fact have an overgrowth of bacteria (mainly pathogenic strains) in their small intestine. You may like to read more about IBS here.
An imbalance in the levels of bad bacteria in the large intestine can also cause bloating and other digestive symptoms. Once again, it is that all important balance that we need for optimal digestive health.
Larger amounts of bacteria are found in the large intestine, unless someone is suffering from SIBO
How is bacteria good for bloating?
It is becoming increasingly recognised that bacteria can also play a positive role in helping to reduce symptoms of bloating and abdominal discomfort. Beneficial bacteria can help to bring the levels of our gut bacteria back into balance.
There are ways to ensure you are exposed to natural bacteria in order to help boost your immune system, improve digestive function and help to reduce bloating. Here we explore 3 ways to increase your exposure to good bacteria :-
1. Supporting a natural birth
When a baby is born and passes through the birth canal, they are naturally exposed to the mother's bacteria and this will then help to colonise the sterile digestive tract that they are born with. If a C-section delivery is unavoidable, it is possible to support an infant with beneficial bacteria to help babies avoid problems such as colic and bloating. OptiBac Probiotics 'For babies and children' for example contains strains of bacteria that are specifically found in the gut of healthy babies and children. Pregnant women can also take a probiotic supplement to help support their own levels of good bacteria in preparation for birth, and continue to do so whilst breastfeeding. We have previously written about babies with colic which you can read about here.
Babies require adequate levels of specific strains of bacteria, which can be found in 'For babies & children'
2. Get dirty!
Gardening is a wonderful way to expose yourself to nature and the earth, as well as the natural bacteria found in the soil. Encourage children to play with soil and get their hands dirty by planting bulbs and watching them grow. Children also love to splash in muddy puddles, and this is a brilliant way to increase their exposure to bacteria, helping to support their immune system. Children often catch frequent coughs and colds when they first start nursery or school. Although this can be inconvenient at the time, it goes a great way towards regulating their immune systems for the future.
Gardening is a brilliant way to get your childrens hands dirty and increase exposure to healthy bacteria
It is of course advisable to wash your hands after touching soil, as well as handling animals, but there is an argument to say that antibacterial gels are too much - once again, we refer to balance.
3. Replace the good bacteria
It is also of course possible to supplement with probiotics (friendly bacteria) to help bring the levels back into balance, particularly following a course of antibiotics. Probiotic bacteria, or live cultures, are defined as "live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host" (World Health Organisation, 2001). They can be used therapeutically, in supplement form, to help bring the body's levels of good and bad bacteria into balance. Most of us are familiar with probiotic yogurt drinks, as well as the probiotics available in supplement form. With so many products available it can become confusing whether firstly, they are effective, and secondly, how we go about choosing the right product for us to help reduce bloating. We aim to help clarify things for you.
It is important to note that not all probiotics or live cultures are the same, and there are some factors to consider such as the particular strain, quantity and source of the bacteria which can have a significant impact on their level of effectiveness. It is also best to avoid any supplements that may contain added sugar, such as in yogurt drinks, which can itself be a trigger for bloating. You can read more about sugar and bloating here.
We would recommend always selecting a probiotic supplement which includes strains that have been clinically trialled for their benefit for specific health conditions.
OptiBac Probiotics 'One week flat' contains a combination of strains specifically selected to target bloating . If you experience bloating, or have been diagnosed with SIBO, it may also be a good idea to take OptiBac Probitoics 'For every day' or 'For every day EXRA Strength' alongside 'For a flat stomach' to help support the overall balance of bacteria in your digestive system.
'One week flat' contains specific strains of beneficial bacteria to target bloating
Reference: Okada, H. Kuhn C, Bach J. 2010. The hygiene hypothesis for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update. Clin Exp Immunology. 2010. April; 160 (1):1-9
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