By now you’ve likely heard about how your gut health is connected to your wider overall health and wellbeing. The lining of your gut is covered in tiny microorganisms that have a little eco-system that scientists call a microbiome. Keeping your microbiome healthy is essential to so many factors in your health, with studies even linking gut health to mental health, autoimmune conditions, skin conditions, cancers and more. So how can we keep these little creatures happy and in balance? Well if you think of these microorganisms as little living beings, what you feed them will affect how healthy they are, just like us. This is where pre and probiotics step in.
What are prebiotics? Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that can’t be processed by the human body that comes from fibre that can be derived from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (though not all fibre is necessarily a prebiotic). These fibres serve as a sort of food or fertilizer that helps stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. What is this healthy gut bacteria? Probiotics.
Your gut is home to a mass of living organisms, which we call gut flora, but not all of them are healthy. Probiotics are a type of healthy bacteria that can be added to your current population of gut flora and prebiotics are what these organisms eat. Probiotics can be attained through supplementation or foods like yogurt, and other fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, tempeh and more.
Most foods and supplements come with a specific strain of bacteria, the most common is lactobacillus but even within that strain, there are more than 120 species. Certain strains may help support your health better than others so it is worth asking your doctor about what types would be best for you.
Why You Need Pre and Probiotics
The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ really comes into play in terms of pre and probiotics. The food that you consume is the same food that organisms in your microbiome consume too. A poor or unbalanced diet affects a variety of health areas, including your microbiome, and studies have begun to link gut health to certain diseases and conditions.
●If you eat a diet that is high in fat and sugars, you have an increased risk for insulin resistance.
●A poor diet can feed the wrong type of bacteria causing it to grow and overtake the healthier bacteria. This can lead to a variety of health problems and discomforts, like irritable bowel disease (IBD), autoimmune arthritis, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes and more.
●Harmful gut bacteria or those with a less healthy gut microbiome are more prone to obesity.
●Sometimes the cell walls of gut flora will contain endotoxins, which cause an immune response from your body leading to inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a wide variety of health issues and diseases. Diet choices have been connected to how many of these endotoxins will populate within your gut flora, as healthier diets tend to produce cells with lower endotoxins.
How Pre and Probiotic Supplementation Can Help
So how can probiotics help? In combination with a healthy diet, further studies indicate the following benefits to probiotic supplementation and foods:
●One study found that a healthy gut with a wide variety of bacteria helped to address things like obesity and improve symptoms of depression.
● Taking prebiotics while on antibiotics can help reduce discomfort and has been found in some studies to reduce antibiotic-related diarrhoea by 60%.
●Probiotics can help manage symptoms in those suffering from IBD.
●While prebiotics are fairly new to the supplementation market and studies, there have been some positive results from some early research.
●Prebiotics may increase calcium absorption.
Prebiotics and probiotics work together as a team to keep your guts in good working order and while we may not see or notice this tiny world living within our guts, its importance to our health is huge. Talk to your doctor or dietician about what probiotics, supplements, and diet would be best for you to achieve optimal gut health and wellbeing.