The Intestine and Probiotics

 

That the well-being of the whole body depends on intestinal equilibrium is a concept that has been widely documented by scientific research, which has recently highlighted the extraordinary physiological complexity of the intestine. Apart from that which it plays in digestion, the intestine has been attributed with other important roles in metabolic, neuroendocrine and immune regulation. So it can be understood just how important it is for the health of the entire organism.

Modern physiology has recognised the existence of a “brain” in the gut (whose functions are integrated with those of the brain in our heads in a reciprocal exchange of information), has acknowledged the specialised endocrine activity of certain cells in the intestinal wall and has identified the intestine as being the largest defence zone in the body. Furthermore, studies into possible remedies for anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue have shown that our emotions can be affected by the intestine, depending on the type of bacteria (flora) present, demonstrating the effectiveness of foods and probiotic supplements which favour healthy bacteria and discourage those which are potentially pathogenic.

Given that the health of the intestine and the balance of its flora are essential for a person’s well-being, let’s have a look at the factors that can weaken intestinal functioning:

  • Bad eating habits, which more and more often lead to food intolerances.
  • Medicines, especially antibiotics.
  • Prolonged stress.

All these factors progressively lead to an inflammatory state which modifies the characteristics of the intestinal walls. The layer of cells lining the intestine gets damaged and becomes more and more porous and permeable to digestive residues and bacteria. The passing of these “foreign” substances through the gut wall triggers an immune response, at first locally, then in the whole body. The compromised selective capacity of the intestinal barrier triggers, or aggravates, numerous illnesses, which are often not easily linked with intestinal problems because the toxins that pass through the intestinal barrier can end up in other organs or tissues. Furthermore, the imbalance in the intestinal flora, called dysbiosis, apart from decreasing the immune response, can give rise to digestion problems, nausea, abdominal tension, meteorism (also called tympanites), sluggish colon, bloating, diarrhoea and intestinal and vaginal infections.

How can we bring the intestine back in balance?

Probiotics are “friendly” micro-organisms which help re-establish a healthy intestinal flora. They obstruct the establishment and development of harmful micro-organisms, protect the intestinal mucosa in the case of food intolerance, aid nutrient assimilation, facilitate intestinal activity and reinforce immune defences.

What are the names of these probiotics?

Here are some examples:

- Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus acidophilus have been shown in many studies to adhere well to the intestinal mucosa and protect intestinal cells from harmful bacteria which can have pathogenic effects.

Lactobacillus acidophilus releases lactic acid, small amounts of H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) and the bacteriocin acidocin. Acidocin, as well as possessing antibacterial properties, inhibits the growth of some yeasts, including candida.

- Lactobacillus rhamnosus has been shown to be effective in the prevention of traveller’s diarrhoea, the reduction of the side-effects of antibiotic treatment, the primary prevention of atopic syndromes in children and in the management of food allergies.

- Saccharomyces boulardii works together with the organism to re-establish the micro-flora, produces lactic acid and vitamin B and keeps harmful yeasts away: it is used in cases of diarrhoea and excessive development of candida, also following antibiotic treatment.

It is important that these micro-organisms are present in sufficient quantities, live and grastro-resistant, that is resistant to the acid conditions in the stomach so that they are live when they reach the intestinal lumen. The choice of which probiotic to use depends not only on the condition to be treated, but also on the age of the patient. For example Lactobacillus casei and Bifidobacterium infantis are more suitable for children.

Substances called PREBIOTICS also exist, which can be considered nutrients for the intestinal flora, encouraging their development and good health: generally they are indigestible food substances derived from sugars, like fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS).

In order to promote synergic action, the possibility of the presence of food intolerances must be evaluated, bad eating habits, which weaken the organism rather than providing it with nutrients and energy, must be corrected, and a life-style inducing prolonged stress must be changed.

Phytotherapy

Besides probiotics, many natural remedies are efficient in bringing the intestine back to its natural balance, providing nutrients to the intestinal flora and preventing the development of pathogenic micro-organisms, fungi and yeasts.

WALNUT (Gemmotherapeutic remedy): A natural probiotic, it encourages the normalisation of enteric flora which have been damaged by pathogenic toxins. It acts on all the bacterial flora of the body (in the gastrointestinal tract, the oral cavity, the respiratory tract, the vagina, the lower urinary tract and the skin). Indispensable following antibiotic treatment and in cases of intestinal dysbiosis, which causes increasing meteorism (a tendency towards uncontrollable flatulence) followed by more pronounced symptoms. Used for inflammation and infections of the skin and mucous membranes, and food intolerances. This gemmotherapeutic remedy sorts out the flora and gets them back in balance, thus improving the immune system response. It must be noted that Walnut (gemmotherapeutic remedy) also regulates the endocrine activity of the pancreas thus sugar metabolism.

MAGNOLIA OFFICINALIS (Gemmotherapeutic remedy): Recommended for the treatment of intestinal motility disorders and in cases of instability of the symbiotic microflora. Brings the condition of the intestinal flora, once modified by enteritis or the use of antibiotics, back to normal. Useful in cases of intestinal dysbiosis, also with nervous symptoms (irritability, hyperkinesia) or localised pain, inflammatory and infectious gastrointestinal conditions, spastic gastritis, meteorism, constipation, gastroenteritis, dysentery and flatulence.

FIG.  ROOTLETS (Gemmotherapeutic remedy): Regulates the rhythmic motions of the visceral system, acting mainly on the intestine (motility, secretions, etc.), reactivates the functions of the vegetative (or autonomic) nervous system and of the intestinal endocrine system in their connection with the central nervous system. Useful in cases of intestinal atonia or dystonia with constipation and alterations in food assimilation functions, food intolerance, meteorism, bloating and spasms.

CHAMOMILE (Mother Tincture): Possibly one of the least used plants, but among the most useful for its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic action on the mucosa of the digestive system and the urinogenital tract. Heals wounds in the mucosa and re-equilibrates the intestinal and vaginal flora. Chosen remedy for women of all ages suffering from recurring colitis, the sensation of bloating and pain in the abdominal area or intestinal disorders, which worsen pre-menstrually. In such cases the remedy is to be taken ten days before the onset of menstruation.

COPPER (Oligo-element, trace element): A systemic anti-inflammatory and anti-infective trace element preventing bacterial complications and stimulating the body’s defences. To be combined with the other remedies in cases of intestinal dysfunctions.

 

 

Denise Baggi

Bergamo – I -

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