By now you have likely heard that there are bacteria living in your gut, and it’s a good thing too. Probiotics are better known to consumers than prebiotics. Although the terms prebiotics and probiotics are frequently confused, they are actually quite different. Prebiotics are like fertilizer for the bacteria in your gut. Probiotics are the actual living bacteria.
1. Probiotics are a popular gut health supplement for a reason
Probiotics are found naturally in many fermented foods. Some of the best known are yogurt, kombucha and miso. More recently probiotics can be bought in a capsule form from health and supplement stores. They are aimed at improving digestive health. The health claims behind probiotics are somewhat controversial; for example, no health claims have been approved for probiotic food products in Europe. However there are numerous studies showing the beneficial effects of probiotics.
2.Bacteria ‘talk’ to your immune system
How do the bacteria in our guts affect our health? Can probiotics and prebiotics really help us? These are questions scientists are still figuring out. Bacteria produce proteins that act as signals to other bacteria and also our immune system. Bacteria can create many enzymes to break down different compounds. They have a vastly larger number of enzymes than us.
3. We borrow our bacteria’s tools to help digestion
We borrow some of our bacteria’s ‘tools’ or enzymes to help us, the best known example is the digestion of fibre. Some bacteria can also product antibiotic enzymes in areas such as our noses to help keep bad bacteria from taking hold. Because the life cycle of bacteria can be as short as 20 minutes, they can evolve many times faster than humans to adapt to new environmental changes and threats.
4. Eating more fiber (prebiotics) can help foster good gut bacteria
By eating fiber you can promote growth of Bifidobacterium populations in your gut. Bifido bacteria are among the good guys and are connected to many health benefits. The definition of fiber is a carbohydrate that we can’t digest, usually plant cell walls. The increase of Bifidobacterium populations in our guts means we can absorb more calcium. Other positive effects on the immune system are in preventing disease causing bacteria from taking hold.
5. Remember, most probiotics are unlikely to survive the low pH of our stomachs
In order for new bacteria to make it to our lower guts they first have to survive. Probiotics traverse the extremely low pH environment of our stomachs where relatively few species can exist. If they survive, there are more challenges ahead. The probiotics bacteria are met with a highly established ecosystem in which they are unlikely to gain a hold. Increasing the dosage, and encapsulation, can help the effectiveness of probiotics.
6. Probiotics are more effective in people who are already sick
Probiotics may be more effective in individuals who have an upset stomach. This means their native bacterial flora have been demolished by antibiotics or infection. If you have been on a course of antibiotics, this is probably the best time to take probiotics (and prebiotics) to help you back to full gut health.
7. Prebiotics can help you grow good bacteria anytime
You don’t have to be sick for prebiotics to work. The use of prebiotics (fiber) can increase the growth of the ‘good guys’ in your gut. The only downside is side effect of fiber digestion. Gas in the lower gut from eating too much fiber can be uncomfortable. As a way to increase certain types of good bacterial populations in our guts, prebiotics may be much more is effective than probiotics.
Eating more prebiotics is easy
Guess what, prebiotics are in all whole vegetables and fruits. They are essentially the structure cell walls of plants, so use the vitamix, not the juicer! Green vegetables contain the highest amounts of fiber (prebiotics) by weight.