Gut Health 101: Your evidence-based guide to prebiotics and probiotics.
November is officially gut health month on the blog/instagram/my life! Follow along this month to learn the ins & outs of great gut health and digestion, along with my personal gut-healing journey:
Hippocrates had it right nearly 2500 years ago when he said that “all disease begins in the gut.” Probiotics are a major trending topic in the health and wellness industry right now. Thousands of studies have been published in 2018 showing the amazing health benefits of probiotics, and researchers are beginning to dig deeper into the role that the gut plays in your overall health and wellbeing. The health of the gut microbiota has even been linked to most chronic health conditions including weight gain, diabetes, depression, insomnia, arthritis, cancer, autoimmune disease, allergies, acne and eczema/psoriasis. In order to start improving your digestive health it’s clearly important to first look at the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Here’s what you need to know about pre and probiotics, what they are, where to find them, and how they can benefit your health:
What is a prebiotic?
Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that beneficially affect humans by stimulating the growth of “good” bacteria in the digestive system; they are essentially the food for the good bacteria in your gut. Examples include: inulin, FOS, PHGG, arabinogalactans and galacto-oligosacchries and they are found in the following foods:
- Chicory root
- Bananas (especially green bananas)
- Root vegetables
- Beet root
- Beans & legumes
- Flax seeds & other nuts + seeds
What is a probiotic?
Probiotics are the good bacteria that are provide health benefits to humans; they are live microbes that live in and on our bodies and beneficially impact us by improving intestinal microbial balance. They improve health by maintaining healthy gut flora, healing the lining of the intestines to prevent leaky gut, rebalancing the immune system, reducing inflammation in the gut and by preventing and treat GI infection as well as improving overall digestive function. Studies show us that probiotic supplementation doesn’t actually ‘recolonize’ the gut, and must therefore be taken consistently to maintain beneficial results. You can take probiotics through supplementation or include the following foods in your daily diet:
- Cultured Olives,
- Fermented foods
- Beet Kvaas
Who can benefit from Pre & Probiotics?
Prebiotics and probiotics are an important part of any gut-supportive protocol and the digestive system is generally considered to be the root of all health & disease. While everyone can benefit from supporting their gut there are a few patient groups in which supplementation is especially important:
- Breast feeding women: In a recent trial feeding Bifidobacteria to the mother for 2 weeks prior and 2 months following birth have positive effects on the microbiota of babies by increasing numbers of Bifidobacteria found in their digestive system.
- Patients with atopic dermatitis (aka eczema): A Cochrane review of 3,023 patients reported significant effects on prevention of atopic dermatitis after supplementation with probiotics and/or prebiotics.
- People with IBS: Probiotics, especially though containing Bifidobacterium infantis, have been shown to alleviate digestive symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, and bowel movement irregularity in patient with IBS.
- Babies with acid reflux: infants with functional GERD were supplemented with probiotics, specifically L. reuteri DSM 17938 strain. This led to reduce gastric distension and accelerate gastric emptying time as well as a diminished frequency of regurgitation.
- Constipation: the following strains have been shown to improve transit time in patients with constipation in order to increase frequency of bowel movements: b. lactis, l. rhamnosus.
- Detoxification: there are certain strains of probiotics that have been shown to improve the body’s natural detox mechanisms including l rhamnosus, l casei & Bifidobacterium bifidum.
- Women with endometriosis or other disease of estrogen dominance: estrogen gets recycled back into the body after liver detox if there is an inappropriate balance of the flow in the gut, adding a probiotic to an estrogen detox protocol may alleviate the symptoms associated with excess estrogen.
- Cold & flu season: Certain probiotics have been shown to reduce symptoms of URTI by 50% and reduce likelihood of recurrence by 33%.
Are there particular strains or a brand that patients should focus on?
It’s always important to purchase probiotics from a reputable source. The dollar store even sells probiotics now but if you take a look at the bottle you’ll see the dosing is too low to have any significant impact on the body and they also happen to contain quite a few fillers. For general health maintenance any multi-strain formula containing greater than 10 billion CFU would be acceptable. If you’re looking to achieve any specific health outcomes by supplementing with pre and probiotics it’s important to work with a professional since certain strains can actually worsen things like autoimmune disease and gut function if they are taken by the wrong people. Your health care provider (Naturopathic doctor or MD with functional medicine training) will be able to help you pick the best probiotic for your specific health needs.
Why is maintaining a healthy gut important for your overall health?
The collection of microbes that live in and on the human body is known as the microbiome. We are dependent on these bacteria to help digest our food, produce vitamins, regulate our immune system, balance our hormones and keep us healthy by protecting us against disease-causing bacteria. It’s important to keep your healthy bacteria in check since there is research suggesting that approximately 90% of all diseases can be traced in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome. Prebiotics and probiotic supplementation is a great place to start since these healthy microbes have been shown to improve cardiovascular health, promote weight loss, improve symptoms of depression, improve digestive health and even reduce occurrence of autoimmune disease.