"Spanish Influenza - what it is and how it should be treated," read the reassuringly factual headline to an advert for Vick's VapoRub back in 1918. The text beneath included nuggets of wisdom such as "stay quiet" and "take a laxative". Oh, and to apply their ointment liberally, of course.
While over-the-counter medicines provide us with a so-called ‘relief’ by suppressing our fever, runny nose and other ‘symptoms’, these are in fact necessary for the body to get well. The symptoms we want to be stopped are not our enemy:
The mucus is helping flush out the pathogen.
The fever(heat) makes the body impalpable for it to survive and replicate.
The body pain is actually the inflammatory chemicals in your veins, guiding the immune cells like an air traffic controller.
The brain is provided with a signal to slow down and let the body recover.
Inside your gastrointestinal (GI) tract are trillions of micro-organisms, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. You have roughly the same number of micro-organisms in there, mostly in the large intestine, as you do human cells in your entire body. But only 10% to 20% of the bacteria you have in your gut will be shared with anyone else.
There has been a lot of hype around the health benefits of prebiotics and probiotics in recent years, but while they're increasingly used in treatments including inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, several reviews suggest there needs to be further research on which strains and dosages are effective. Recent studies have found some people are even immune to probiotics.
Gut microbiota has a major role to play in the health and function of the GI tract, with evidence that conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often coincide with altered microbiota. But it also plays a much wider role in our health, and this is largely determined in the first few years of life.