Keeping your gut healthy with prebiotics and probiotics
We all want our gut to feel good. No one wants a gut that is in constant turmoil possibly leading to serious conditions of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, obesity or rheumatoid arthritis. What our gut is trying to tell us when these diseases arise is that the gut’s microbiome, partly inherited from your mother at birth and partly determined by your lifestyle, have a great deal of influence on our health.
Our gut microbiome is made of up bacteria, all good, that live within our intestines helping us digest our food. Digestion is serious business as these microbes munch away making essential vitamins available to us, make molecules helping our brain to function and assists our immune system to work like a charm keeping us healthy. Diversity of bacteria is also desirable as this can sway what diseases we may or may not develop over our lifetime.
One of the most important things we can do to attain a thriving, diverse microbiome is making good food choices. Eating foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics lead to greater diversity of good bacteria in your gut keeping us free of disease and our immune system healthy.
The many roles of probiotics
· Probiotics support healthy digestion through fermentation of the byproducts of the food we eat
· Probiotics can ease gas and bloating
· Probiotics support regularity of normal bowel movements – easing diarrhea or constipation
· Probiotics produce their own enzymes that help process food
· Probiotics manufacture essential vitamins such as vitamin K
· Probiotics help prevent the overgrowth of yeast and fungi and harmful bacteria which can interfere with the production of neurotransmitters by the gut
· Probiotics play a role in the manufacture of neurotransmitters like serotonin
· Probiotics play a role in the manufacture of amino acids and short chain fatty acids
· Probiotics communicate with our brain and can affect our mood and memory through the gut-brain axis
What are prebiotics and probiotics and what foods contain them?
Prebiotics are a natural, non-digestible food component linked to promoting growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. They are food for our good bacteria to eat and can boost their numbers found in our gut. Prebiotics may also improve gastrointestinal health along with potentially enhancing calcium absorption.
Food sources of prebiotics include:
· Brown rice
· Sweet potatoes
· Wheat bran
Probiotics are the “good” bacteria naturally found living in your gut. These living bacteria or live cultures can change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. This is what enhances immunity and overall health of our gastrointestinal system. Certain strains of probiotics may help prevent specific allergy symptoms, reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance and may reduce development of certain disease conditions. Be careful though as they can be wiped out by taking too many antibiotics, too much stress and eating an unhealthy diet for a long time.
To keep your probiotics alive and well and functioning, choose more of these probiotic foods:
· Miso paste or soup
What about using probiotic supplements?
If a person is interested in using a probiotic supplement either in place of or in addition to natural food sources of them, they need to know that in 2001, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defined “probiotics” as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”
So far, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved health claims made for probiotics supplements. Further, the amounts of probiotics that studies have found to be beneficial vary from strain to strain and condition to condition.
In 2007, the FDA enacted regulations requiring dietary supplements to be produced in a quality manner, to be free of contaminants or impurities, and to be accurately labeled. This was to protect consumers and to help improve the quality of probiotic supplements sold in the United States.
In addition, dietary supplements do not undergo the testing and approval process that drugs do. Manufactures are responsible for making sure they are safe before they are marketed and that any claims made on the label are true. But there’s no guarantee that the type of bacteria listed on a label are effective for the condition you are taking them for. Health benefits are strain-specific and not all strains are necessarily useful. It is always best to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss options available. As always, let your primary care provider know if you are taking a probiotic supplement.