“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, the age old quote by Hippocrates. Have you ever paused for a minute or two during the day to reflect on how the foods you eat may contribute to your overall body functioning and gut health? Thinking for example at the impact of an inflammatory diet on your gut health? Looking at some gut related diseases or discomfort like IBS, diarrhea, abdominal pain and discomfort, fatigue, brain fog, low mood, low pancreatic function and asked yourself what may be the causes?
The human gastrointestinal tract is colonised by a complex ecosystem of microorganisms. Beneficial intestinal bacteria have numerous and important functions, e.g., they produce various nutrients for their host, prevent infections caused by intestinal pathogens, and modulate a normal immunological response. Therefore, modification of the intestinal microbiota in order to achieve, restore, and maintain a favourable balance in the gut ecosystem, and the activity of microorganisms present in the gastrointestinal tract is necessary for the improved health condition of the host. The introduction of probiotics and prebiotics into human diet is favourable for the intestinal microbiota. They may be consumed in the form of raw vegetables and fruits, fermented pickles, dairy products and supplements.
Probiotics are derived from a Greek word meaning “life” and are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve the “good” bacteria (normal microflora) in the body. Probiotics contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria that directly add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. Most commonly used probiotic strains are: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacilli, S. boulardii, B. coagulans. These probiotics strains are added to foods, particularly fermented milk products and some yoghurts.
Food sources of probiotics includes: yoghurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha and kimchi. When we don’t have the right balance of microbes, meaning there are more opportunistic microbes than functional, supportive ones, out gut health declines. Consuming probiotics helps us add to the positive inner bacterial microflora, more good guys.
Prebiotics are foods (typically high-fibre foods) that act as food for human microflora. In simple terms, prebiotics are specialized plant fibres. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. And not only that as some of them also soothe the gut lining and reduce intestinal inflammation.
Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fibres and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes.
An ideal prebiotic should be:
1) Resistant to the actions of acids in the stomach, bile salts and other hydrolyzing enzymes in the intestine.
2) Should not be absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract.
3) Be easily fermentable by the beneficial intestinal microflora.
Prebiotics play an important role in human health. They naturally exist in different dietary food products including: asparagus, sugar beet, garlic, chicory, onion, Jerusalem artichoke, wheat, honey, banana, barley, tomato, rye, soybean, human’s and cow’s milk, peas, beans and recently, seaweeds and microalgae.
Research studies showed health benefits of prebiotics and probiotics
Probiotics have numerous advantageous functions in human organisms. Their main benefit is the effect on the development of the microbiota inhabiting the organism in the way ensuring proper balance between pathogens and the bacteria that are necessary for a normal function of the gut. Such positive effect is used for the restoration of natural microbiota after antibiotic therapy.
Another function is counteracting the activity of pathogenic intestinal microbiota, introduced from contaminated food and environment. Therefore, probiotics may effectively inhibit the development of pathogenic bacteria, such as Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Salmonella, & E coli.
Research studies have confirmed the positive effect of probiotics on digestion processes (thus relieving symptoms of IBS & diarrhea), treatment of food allergies, candidoses and dental caries. Probiotic microorganisms such as Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus reuteri, Bifidobacterium adolescentis, and Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum are natural producers of B group vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, B8, B9, B12). They also increase the efficiency of the immunological system, enhance the absorption of vitamins and mineral compounds, and stimulate the generation of organic acids and amino acids. Some products of probiotics’ metabolism may also show antibiotic (acidophiline, bacitracin, lactacin), anti-cancerogenic, and immunosuppressive properties.
The health benefits of prebiotics are numerous and can be attributed to the health benefits of a fibre rich diet such as reducing the risk of obesity and other chronic diseases, enhancing digestion and metabolism, reducing bloating. Studies on colorectal carcinoma demonstrated that the disease occurs less commonly in people who often eat vegetables and fruit. This effect is attributed mostly to inulin and oligofructose.
Other research suggests that prebiotics may benefit the body by improving calcium absorption, changing how quickly the body can process carbohydrates, supporting the probiotic growth of gut bacteria.