Just like you and me, bacteria have families too.
One such family is the Lactobacillaceae, a group of bacteria characterized by their lactic acid-producing capabilities.
Family members generally share the same characteristics. For example, Lactobacilliceae have the ability to survive in the presence of acid and bile in the gut environment. This allows Lactobacillaceae to establish their homes in our gastrointestinal tracts. Indigestible carbohydrates, such as sugar and fibre, are like protein shakes for them – a huge source of energy waiting to be extracted during fermentation.
Before you think you’ve received the short end of the stick, these gut microbes pay rent by conferring many health benefits to you. For one, the fermentation of carbohydrates produces short-chain fatty acids, which help to regulate cell growth. The bacteria in your gut are also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to fending off potential intruders such as pathogens.
Benefits of Lactobacillus
Further down the family tree, we meet members in the genus Lactobacillus. Although a minor component of your gut microflora – constituting only a mere 0.3% of all bacteria in the gut, Lactobacilli have tremendous therapeutic effects on health. Studies show that different Lactobacillus species exhibit anti-cancer activity, improve cognitive function, and have been used to prevent infant eczema. If you are just like the rest of us, always having to deal with stressful situations at home or in the workplace, our Lactobacillus buddies can also help by improving your sleep quality and mental health.
This is why most of the probiotic products on the market use strains from various Lactobacillus species. The next time you’re on a hunt for some probiotic goodness, keep your eyes peeled for strains like Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and more.
Ways to increase Lactobacilli in the gut
Remember the energy sources for bacteria in the gut? These are also known as prebiotics. Prebiotics are food ingredients that benefit the host by stimulating the growth and activity of selected bacteria in the gut, like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. Consuming prebiotics will increase the amount of food available for bacteria like Lactobacilli to extract energy from. More energy, increased growth, more active bacteria, happier gut. Prebiotics such as inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides can be found in products on the market, and naturally occur in some foods.
An alternative is to directly consume foods containing Lactobacilli. Sources of Lactobacilli are usually fermented foods such as yoghurt and cheese – items you can easily find in your neighbourhood grocery store.
Below is a list of foods you may want to feed to your friendly gut bacteria.
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About the author
Lydia is a current intern at AMILI with a background in Biological Sciences and Psychology at NTU. She is particularly interested in exploring the role that the gut microbiome plays in the context of mental health and aspires to raise awareness about this forgotten organ.