Probiotics, 'good' bacteria, gut microflora, and gut microbiome – these are the most common terms used to describe the beneficial bacteria found in our digestive system which have a positive impact on our health. These benefits include better digestive health which improves absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat, reducing symptoms of digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhoea, or constipation and potentially giving your immune system a boost.
Preliminary results revealed
A team of local researchers from Pusat Perubatan Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (PPUKM), led by Principle Investigator and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Associate Professor Dr Raja Affendi Raja Ali, has found overwhelming evidence that probiotics (in the form of cultured milk drinks that contain Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei) help to relieve constipation. Since constipation is a digestive condition that can affects up to 16% of Malaysians, this is indeed good news for them.
The clinical study research by PPUKM focused on how probiotics affected the overall health of Malaysian research subjects against the local backdrop of Malaysian diet and lifestyle habits. The preliminary results were revealed in conjunction with World Digestive Health Day in May this year.
Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi comments, "It is well-known that probiotics play a critical role in digestive health. However, there is very little data collected that fits the local context. We are in the midst of a year-long study on the effects of probiotics on healthy participants and patients with constipation and the results so far are very positive."
You may not know it, but doctors usually define constipation in terms of a person's weekly bowel movement (BM) frequency (e.g. less than three BM a week) rather than other symptoms (e.g. straining, bloating and hard stools).
Researchers, on the other hand, use something known as the ROME III criteria to define irritable bowel syndrome which involve symptom of constipation. That means patients with constipation are someone who has experienced at least two of the following symptoms for the past three months:
- Less than 3 BM per week
- Straining during BM
- Lumpy or hard stools
- A feeling of obstruction during BM
- Sensation of incomplete BM
- Manual maneuvering needed during BM
Shorten your ITT
Intestinal transit time or ITT, basically refers to how long it takes your body to process food, starting from the moment it is eaten right until you eliminate it via a bowel movement. A prolonged or extended ITT is indicative of chronic constipation or linked to common digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In the preliminary results of the research, three major benefits were found, firstly a significant improvement in intestinal transit time for both healthy and constipated patients, secondly a significant improvement in the symptom of constipation among healthy and constipated patients, and lastly a positive influence on the immune status of all patients.
Based from the clinical study research, the average ITT showed a significant improvement, from an initial average of 15 hours to 9 hours for healthy participants, and 56 hours to 34 hours for patients with constipation. Similarly, when comparing stool hardness, the results were also quite dramatic, dropping from 68% for all participants and patients to a low of only 4%!
"Since this year-long study is still ongoing, we still expect further results to appear. However, based on what we have observed so far, I think it is quite optimistic to say that they will likely strengthen the current findings," Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi divulges.
Other components of good health
"Of course, one should not rely solely on probiotics to achieve good health as there are other factors that will influence constipation and its symptoms, such as eating sufficient fibre every day and drinking enough water daily. Physical activity is also a great way to help boost your digestive health," discloses Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi.
Other than cultured milk drinks, other good sources of probiotics include yoghurt, tempeh, and fermented vegetables (e.g. kimchi, acar, Chinese hum choy). Probiotics also need something called prebiotics, which are essentially food for probiotics that can be found in high-fibre foods such as onions, garlic, banana, shallots, leeks, asparagus, and whole grains.
"In short, eating a well-balanced diet and leading a healthy lifestyle are the best things you can do to minimise your risk of getting constipation or other digestive woes. Remember that consuming probiotics might help to ease constipation or its symptoms, but do not expect it to work miracles if you do not take care of your own health," warns Assoc Prof Dr Raja Affendi.