Prebiotics and Probiotics: What You Should Know
Gut health has recently become a commonly researched topic, as more people are transitioning to healthier lifestyles. Those affected with a serious gastrointestinal illness such as Crohn’s Disease, Celiac Disease, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, are even more inclined to take care of their guts in any way they can. Changing our diets is the number one way to keep us healthy and our bodies functioning properly. A couple of topics that have been popular in nutrition, especially more recently are probiotics and prebiotics. Both sound similar but are actually very different and have unique roles in the body and for our gut health. If you are planning on including either of these supplements in your diet, it is important to understand what they can do for your health.
Probiotics are considered the “good bacteria” in the body. And yes, there is such a thing! Not all bacteria are harmful to our health. Probiotics are microorganisms that provide many health benefits to our bodies. The microorganisms that live in our intestines, for example, are in charge of helping absorb vitamins and minerals, fight off disease-causing bacteria, and help digest the foods we eat. Many individuals with poor gut health or who are on medications, such as antibiotics, unfortunately, suffer from a low count of these helpful good bacteria. This is why it is important to include probiotic-rich foods in your diet, which are plenty. There are also several over-the-counter supplements that offer the same or similar good bacteria to the body.
Some examples of everyday foods that can provide the body with good bacteria are yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, apple cider vinegar, pickles, and fermented cheese. There are also several probiotic drinks widely available such as kombucha. The key to making sure these drinks, as well as the yogurt you eat, are packed with the right kinds of probiotics is to check the labels for the actual names of the bacteria. The most common is called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which are both a broad class of bacteria that contain many smaller types.
Benefits of Probiotics
Whether from food poisoning, laxative food, or antibiotic use, diarrhea is miserable in any case. An infected or inflamed digestive tract caused by these issues is what leads to diarrhea. The infections caused by the bad bacteria in the gut can be balanced out by including a healthy dose of probiotics, especially during times of illness or antibiotic use. Those affected with digestive issues will benefit from daily probiotic use.
Helps Keep a Healthy Heart
A specific group of lactic acid-producing bacteria can assist with the breaking down of bile in the gut. This bile is made up of cholesterol and is involved in digestion. Without lactic acid, the bile is at risk of being reabsorbed in the gut where it can get into the bloodstream. This process will eventually raise cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Helps Strengthen the Immune System
Probiotics assist with preventing unwanted inflammation in the gut. Small amounts of inflammation that line the intestinal walls are needed for the immune system to respond by warding off invading bacteria and viruses. Environmental and physical stressors, along with certain foods we eat, can cause too much inflammatory buildup, which then leads to chronic illness and allergies. Probiotics are useful in these situations because of their ability to help lower inflammation and secrete antibacterial organisms that kill off the harmful bacteria.
Prebiotics are considered the food for probiotics. They are naturally found in low amounts in many food sources such as bananas, onion, and garlic, but are indigestible by humans. Many products are fortified with prebiotics, but it is hard to tell, as the labels will not state “prebiotics”. Some common terms to look for are “Oligofructose”, “Inulin”, and “Chicory Fiber”. Prebiotics are becoming a more popular area of research, but the few studies conducted have concluded several benefits, including assisting with calcium absorption and improving glycemic index. The fact that prebiotics feed probiotics are a topic that requires more research, but combining the two for the use of probiotic growth has been shown to be beneficial.
Before including a daily probiotic supplement or any high levels of probiotic-rich foods, it is important to seek advice from your doctor. Although there are very little side effects, such as mild gas, there have not been many studies conducted on the safety of its use. In the presence of other medical conditions or severe cases of gastrointestinal problems, side effects can be exacerbated. For this reason, it is important to slowly introduce probiotics or prebiotics into your diet and monitor how your body reacts. If you are considering taking these supplements, the ultimate goal is to balance out the good and bad bacteria. When the good bacteria dominate, you will have less risk of acquiring an illness, a stronger immune system, better digestion and metabolism, and overall better health.
- Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review, Journal, Aug 31, 2018 ,