Probiotics + Prebiotics = Promoting Gut Health
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that help keep your digestive system healthy by controlling growth of harmful bacteria. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the human body. They are food for probiotics. The primary benefit of probiotics and prebiotics is to help maintain a healthy digestive system.
Probiotics are live bacteria in yogurt and other dairy products and also come in supplements. Doctors often prescribe probiotics to patients on antibiotics in an attempt to prevent gastrointestinal side effects of the medication. And while probiotics have been shown effective in managing certain gastrointestinal conditions, they do not have the same power that prebiotics do.
A prebiotic is a special type of soluble fiber that is used mostly by the beneficial good bacteria as a fuel. Prebiotics are found in wheat, onions, bananas, garlic, leeks, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, wild yam, agava, and jicama. In the U.S., most people get very little of this valuable fiber, perhaps only 2-3 grams a day on average with 70% of this coming from wheat and 20% from onions.
Prebiotics work in a very advantageous way to provide significant health benefits. The good bacteria produce certain substances that acidify the colon and serve as a nutritional source for the colon cells. When the pH in the colon is lowered, this type of environment is best for the optimal growth of good bacteria. These bacteria, in turn, manufacture the nutritional source for the colon itself. When the health of both the colon and the bacteria are boosted, the body is able to function maximally.
The science on what probiotics do is still being discovered. There is some solid evidence that suggests eating probiotic foods and supplements can have a beneficial effect on health. Other evidence suggests probiotics benefits are limited to those individuals in good health, and should be avoided by those who suffer from certain serious health conditions.
Despite the uncertainty, foods enriched with probiotics and probiotic supplements are increasingly popular in the U.S. Finding probiotic supplements in grocery stores is quiet easy. Many of us may already know that yogurt contains probiotic bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Many clinical studies demonstrate that these bacteria relieve symptoms related to lactose intolerance.
More foods that contain probiotics include:
- Soft cheese and enriched milk — Soft cheeses such as Gouda are good sources of probiotics. Evidence suggests probiotic bacteria that live in soft cheese are better able to survive in the acidic stomach. Probiotic-enriched milk, as well as kefir, are more potential sources.
- Naturally fermented sour pickles — Pickling in salt water instead of vinegar encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria
- Sourdough bread — Sourdough contains lactobacillus, one of the bacterium found in yogurt
- Unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi — These dishes contain essential probiotics plus many vitamins. Always choose unpasteurized versions of these prepared foods since pasteurization kills the helpful bacteria.
- Miso soup — Fermented soybean that contains over 150 bacteria, is low in calories and high in vitamins and antioxidants.
Most probiotics are safe. However, if you have an immune disorders, or have any serious chronic disease, check with your physician. Some experts say that you have to take it indefinitely.
Most probiotics are considered the good types to have in the gut, but unless a stool test is done on the bacterial makeup of the gut, it will always be an estimate. There are over 1000 species of bacteria already in the colon. It is not yet suggested if adding in more bacteria will make a significant difference to the gut health.
However, research does strongly suggests that a favorable bacterial balance in the gut positively affects the factors influencing heart disease, immunity, bone strength, depression, and obesity and weight loss.
Science has only just begun to determine the roles that bacteria play in human health, but it seems clear that healthier people have healthier bacterial balances. People with poorly balanced bacteria levels are more likely to suffer serious health problems.
If you want to take advantage of the benefits of probiotics and you also want to make sure the beneficial bacteria you already have is optimized to its full potential, then add prebiotic fiber to your diet. That way the benefits of both prebiotics and probiotics on the bacteria in your gut are maximized.