You might not realise​ it, but our bodies contain billions of bacteria – particularly in the gastrointestinal tract. While some of these are bad and can cause infection and illness, there are also a balancing number of good bacteria that help to fight them off and provide healthy benefits to the host (us). 

As we grow older, our bodies change in a number of ways. Unfortunately, whether it's natural or because of the introduction of antibiotics, the number of good bacteria in our guts can be reduced, meaning pathogens have a higher chance of colonisation. This can lead to a rise in digestive ailments, as well as reductions in other aspects of well-being.

With that in mind, in order to continue living an active lifestyle, should you be taking a probiotic supplement? 

What are probiotics?

'Probiotic' is a fancy way of saying 'good bacteria'. A study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that there are at least 5,600 different strains of bacteria living inside the gut. Though many do nothing, there are plenty others that contribute positively to the immune system, as well as provide vital vitamins. Their presence also helps prevent bad bacteria from gaining the upper hand. 

A probiotic supplement is a type of capsule that contains billions of specifically chosen microbes that pass through the stomach and inhabit the digestive tract. The idea is that you consume these supplements regularly in order to bolster your good bacteria and reap the benefits of a healthy gastrointestinal tract.

How do probiotics benefit the elderly?

Those of you who regularly take antibiotics or who have a compromised immune system may notice a rise in digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhoea. This could be the result of an imbalance between your good and bad bacteria. 

There are a number of studies that suggest regularly taking a probiotic could aid seniors in combating these symptoms, as well as others. 

A study published in the Post Graduate Medical Journal said, "Probiotics (…) have been shown to be useful in preventing certain disease conditions as well as possibly promoting specific aspects of health."

Both this study and a number of others suggest that regularly taking a supplement could balance your gut, helping to improve the immune system and prevent pathogens from colonising. Alongside diarrhoea and constipation, you may also find benefits to irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, heart burn and possibly even lactose intolerance. 

If you think a probiotic supplement may be beneficial to you, talk to your doctor about what will work best and what his or her recommendations are.

Should you be taking a probiotic supplement?