The Good Gut Guide


One of the biggest medical topics nowadays is the effect of gut bacteria on our health and wellbeing. I’m often asked about what this means in practical terms and the possible benefits of probiotic supplements. Here Professor Ingvar Bjarnason of King’s College Hospital, a world expert in this arena, explains the key facts. Q. Why are gut bacteria so important?

A The human gut contains about 100 trillion bacteria – more than 100 times the number of stars in the Milky Way. Experts agree that a balanced gut bacteria is vital for optimum health. An imbalance can bring about or aggravate a number of diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS ), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD ), diverticulitis, antibiotic- and infection-related diarrhoea and possibly yeast infections. Other conditions that may be linked include allergies, arthritis, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, ear and respiratory infections, and even ovarian and womb cancers.

Q. What do probiotics do?

A These ‘friendly’ bacteria can help balance the bacterial population in your gut, making it function more smoothly.

Q. Should everyone take a probiotic supplement?

A Modern living often involves irregular eating, processed foods, daily stress juggling family and work, as well as antibiotic use, which can all disrupt the balance of gut bacteria. So taking a probiotic may benefit most people. They are proven to be particularly useful for anyone with IBS , IBD and diverticulitis, and after taking antibiotics.

Q Do certain foods help?

A Eating whole unprocessed foods along with cultured or fermented foods (eg, yoghurt and kefir) is desirable. But diet and supplements have a synergistic effect: a high-quality probiotic supplement (such as Symprove, is likely to restore or maintain a healthy gut. Reducing sugar and fermentable carbohydrates (see below) in the diet may help ease bloating and diarrhoea.


• Fructose or fruit sugar, found in fruit, vegetables and honey.

• Lactose or milk sugar, found in most dairy products (but not yoghurt).

• Fructans, found in breads, cereals and pasta.

• Galactans, found in beans and other legumes.

• Polyols or sugar alcohols, found in apples, pears, nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries.

Please consult a nutritionist for more information.

Q What are ‘second’ and ‘third’ generation probiotics?

A These are marketing terms for new launches. In the future, it is possible people’s gut bacterial profiles will be assessed via stool analysis so they can receive an individualised bacteria-balancing treatment.


Gut flora, or microbiota, refers to the micro-organism species – bacteria, viruses and fungi – that live in the gut or digestive tract. Gut micro biome refers to the genomes, or genetic composition, of the microbiota.


Pets make us happy, reduce stress and help us make friends. But that’s not all. Having a family dog could be a secret weapon in the fight against childhood (as well as adult) obesity. Research on child heart health at St George’s, University of London, found that children in dog-owning families took part in more physical exercise and sat down less. Children in pet-owning families also seem better able to fight off infection, particularly between the ages of five and eight when they often pick up every bug going.

There are psychological benefits too. A study by Pets at Home ( revealed that 72 per cent of parents said owning a pet has improved their children’s anxiety, and two thirds of parents whose children have behavioural issues believe their child has shown an improvement thanks to having a pet. While dogs and cats came top of the polls, small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish, birds and reptiles also had a beneficial effect. Going larger, my horses are the lights of my life – and riding and mucking out stables keeps me fit.



Change your lify one day at a timeChange Your Life One Day at a Time, £14.99, Modern Books This inspiring book offers 365 ‘nudges’ to health and happiness, from avoiding additives to living with purpose and smiling every day. Written by medical doctor Patricia Macnair and psychologist Dr Ilona Boniwell, it is just what every doctor should order their patients to read. To order a copy for £11.24, go to, 0808 272 0808.*