Prebiotics And Probiotics–Why You Need Both
Your health practitioner has most likely told you about taking a probiotic. But do you understand why this is both a necessary and desirable supplement?
Many people take a probiotic to help prevent heartburn, reflux, gas, diarrhea and/ or constipation, irritable bowel, and abdominal cramping. And indeed, a good probiotic can help with all of those maladies. But there are more reasons to take them!
We are surrounded by bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are good bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria in your GI tract and promote a healthy digestive system. Our GI tract is actually our body’s largest immune system organ. With our processed diets, we don’t get enough of these good bacteria. When you take a good probiotic, you are essentially feeding your immune system, helping it to work better to ward off illness and disease. Probiotics help increase immunoglobulin IGA, which is an antibody necessary for immune health. Probiotics increase the thickness of intestinal mucus, which acts as a protective barrier to keep harmful bacteria from getting into our bodies. They compete with pathogenic bacteria (bad bacteria), discouraging the bad bugs’ growth and harmful effects. The probiotics stick to the intestinal lining, crowding out the bad bacteria. They produce lactic acid, which makes the GI tract more acidic. This acidic environment encourages the growth of good bacteria and discourages the growth of the bad.
We know when we have a bad GI bug, because we usually have pretty immediate physical symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. But did you know that our GI tract is also responsible for warding off very serious bacteria like Anthrax, Tetanus, Tuberculosis, and Leprosy? And many of you who are reading this have had experience with Helicobacter Pylori (H-Pylori for short). H-pylori causes gastritis and stomach ulcers. It is also a risk factor for stomach cancer. The GI tract cannot help your body to ward off these illnesses unless it has enough good bacteria to do so. (Please note—if you have any of these illnesses you MUST see a doctor for appropriate treatment. Do not rely on a probiotic to cure you of any disease).
Probiotics may alleviate inflammatory bowel disease by suppressing the auto-immune response of the gut, and they may help to promote anti-allergic processes. They also produce healthful nutrients. Probiotics ferment some of the fiber in food (called “prebiotics”) to form short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs. The SCFAs nourish the cells lining the colon, stimulate healing of these cells, and may recude the likelihood of colon cancer. The SCFAs are also absorbed into the bloodstream and travel to the liver where they lessen the liver’s production of cholesterol. SCFAs also inhibit the growth of yeast and harmful bacteria in the gut.
So now we have learned why probiotics are so important to our GI and immune health. Let’s find out more about “prebiotics”.
Prebiotics are a very specific type of food. They are a healthy non-digestible (usually fiber) food ingredient. The good bacteria in your GI tract use prebiotics as a source of energy. When the PREbiotics release short-chain fatty acids, the pH of the colon is changed to a more favorable environment for PRObiotics to survive and function. If everyone would eat 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, their prebiotic requirement could be met. Here is a list of foods that are significant sources of prebiotic:
Artichokes. According to the Mayo Clinic, artichokes have been shown to improve constipation, draveler’s diarrhea, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. Steam, boil, or cook in the microwave.
Chicory Root. This is usually consumed as a tea. It can help with diarrhea and constipation. It may also offer protection against heart disease and cancer.
Oats. A significant source of soluble fiber. Consuming high amounts of soluble fiber can also help to lower cholesterol.
Barley. Also a good source of soluble fiber. Add it to soup or use instead of rice as a side dish.
Legumes. Soy beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and split peas are all legumes. Add them to soup, salads, and pasta dishes.
Greens. Kale, mustard, and dandelion greens are all good sources of prebiotic. Steam them for a side dish or add them to salads.
Garlic. This spice is rich in antioxidants, offering protection against free radicals. A wonderful prebiotic as well.
We can help our PRObiotics to function much better if we consume a good amount of PREbiotics!
Take a few moments to consider again—you are what you eat!
Blessings to you,