Many health experts and researchers have recommended good foods and supplements for daily consumption – You may as well heard about probiotics and prebiotics.
However, do you know exactly the beneficial qualities of probiotics and prebiotics? They are the key players in our gut health and it is worth reading more about these health key players!
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are generally live microorganisms, or bacteria, that already exist in our gastrointestinal system, or gut. They line the digestive tracts, aiding in healthy digestion. They perform multiple functions to enhance and preserve our gut health and overall well-being – From helping the body to absorb nutrients, to fighting numerous infections that could damage our internal systems – Probiotics are the ones that are working for us!
How do they work?
These beneficial gut bacteria restore good microorganisms in the body when it is being depleted. For instance, when we consume antibiotics which not only kills the pathogens but may destroy the good bacteria in the gut, probiotics, paired together with prebiotics, play a major role in balancing the good and bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal system.
Probiotics provide good bacteria to our body, leading a beautiful skin
Probiotics assist our bodies in providing protection against bad bacteria, hence boosting our immune system! They crowd out the bad bacteria through multiplying the good bacteria and creating enzymes that destroy the unwanted microorganisms. Besides presenting good bacteria to our gut, they also help in controlling inflammation as well as achieving beautiful skin.
Probiotics are essential for the body’s production of Vitamin K. This vitamin is responsible for blood-clotting and forming short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids are the primary source of nutrients of the cells that line the large intestine. This strengthens the gut barrier, preventing unwanted pathogens from harming the internal systems, reducing inflammation and the risk of cancer. An example of fatty acids is butyric acid, which boosts the health of the gut lining and regulates electrolyte levels in the body, leading to healthy digestion and good bowel movements.
Probiotics are also responsible for the production of Vitamin B12, which leads to increased energy, and aids in digestion by helping food move through the gut.
Types of probiotics
The two most common types of probiotics are the lactobacillus (found in yoghurt and fermented food) and bifidobacterium (found in dairy products) species. Each type of probiotic strains support the bodily functions in different ways. Examples of probiotic strains that inhibits pathogens include the bifidobacterium bifidum, lactobacillus casei, and lactobacillus brevis. Examples of probiotic strains that help reduce inflammation, however, include the lactobacillus bulgaricus and the lactobacillus rhamnosus.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are just as important for our body as probiotics!
They play a major role in nutrient absorption as well as in digestive health. Prebiotics, in general, are also called “superfoods” or “fertilizers” as they become nutrient sources for the good bacteria, a.k.a. probiotics. A type of dietary fibre called “oligosaccharides” that are non-digestible by humans, prebiotics act as a fuel source for the good bacteria in the gut.
How does prebiotics work with probiotics?
The functions of prebiotics have a synergistic effect on the functions of probiotics. In other words, prebiotics work in correlation with the good bacteria. As prebiotics travel down to the stomach, they help generate positive effects in the digestive tract and internal organs by allowing the good bacteria to stick to the gastrointestinal wall. This encourages the growth and survival of the probiotics!
Why you should consume prebiotics
Prebiotics provide a lot of benefits for the body besides aiding in healthy digestion. Consuming the proper amount of prebiotics daily can reduce inflammation, which is one of the common causes of most cardiovascular diseases such as ischemic heart disease. They do this by reducing the glycation process which is the result of the body not being able to properly metabolize sugars, thus causing inflammation and reducing insulin resistance.
Prebiotics also support the balance of electrolyte and mineral levels in the body, such as potassium and sodium which help control blood pressure. Better hormonal balance can also be achieved by consuming sufficient prebiotics in our diets, leading to less stress! These beneficial superfoods for good bacteria can strengthen bone health too as prebiotics assist in nutrient and mineral absorption such as calcium, increasing the bone density.
Common types of prebiotics
The most common types of prebiotics are the galactooligosaccharides and fructooligosaccharides. Inulin, an example of fructooligosaccharide found in chicory roots, help improve digestive health.
How do they work together?
Once you understand the mechanism of both prebiotics and probiotics, it is sensible that these two good health key players should be taken together! Better results are achieved with these two working hand-in-hand, increasing the level of health in the body. This includes the improved functioning of the gastrointestinal system and other bodily functions, such as the balance of good and bad bacteria.
Consuming both prebiotics and probiotics lead to a better digestive system, and gut health is generally associated with other bodily functions. Gut bacteria, or “flora”, affects the functioning of the brain, nervous, and reproductive system, hormonal balance, even the detoxification ability of the liver.
The two are similar in providing beneficial qualities for the body. Both boost the digestion process and treat inflammation, such as in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Other benefits include helping with skin conditions such as eczema and also contributing to weight loss. When taken together, the immune system is enhanced as prebiotics and probiotics both support nutrient and mineral absorption in the body. This also reduces the pH level, preventing the development of pathogens.
A healthy digestive system prevents autoimmunity, which is the condition of the body’s own organisms reacting against its healthy tissues and cells. This speeds up the body’s metabolism of nutrients which in turn regulates hormonal functions.
When the body lacks in either probiotics or prebiotics, a growth of pathogens can occur, resulting in indigestion such as flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, or the inflammation of the gut lining. This deficiency also opens the door for the body to be more vulnerable to infections, allergies, and colds.
Food sources & when to take them
Probiotics are found in most sour foods, such as apple cider vinegar or fermented vegetables. Not only do they contain the good bacteria your body needs, but they also contain healthy acids which boost the probiotics’ growth in the system! Fermented vegetable such as sauerkraut or kimchi can easily be found in most supermarkets and health food stores. Since they are affordable, you can start including these beneficial probiotics in your diets to enhance digestion and overall health.
Other sources of probiotics include dairy products such as live cultured yoghurt, which contains the highest traces of probiotics. It can be made from the milk of cows, goat or sheep, whichever tickles your fancy. Regularly having probiotic-rich yoghurt in the morning can be a great start to a healthier digestive system.
Another way to increase the number of good bacteria in your body is to provide them with fuel, or “superfoods” – in other words, it would be to consume prebiotics. As probiotics digest prebiotics to continue benefiting the body, it makes sense that it is required to include prebiotics in our diets as well.
Probiotics, despite being beneficial, can be easily destroyed in the presence of heat, acid (such as in the stomach), or may even die with time. As they are delicate, probiotics should be taken with meals as the food protects the probiotics when they travel down to the stomach and small intestine. Also, because digestion boosts during and immediately after eating, some probiotics may be destroyed even before they reach the gut. Taking probiotic supplements may prevent this from occurring, and increase the number of good bacteria in the body.
Prebiotics are a type of fibre that can be found in vegetables, fruits, and legumes. One of the most common food sources that contain high amounts of prebiotics is onions. You can have onions in your meals either raw or cooked, as they not only provide flavour but also antioxidants which boost the immune system. Onions contain inulin, a type of prebiotics, which helps improve digestion.
Raw garlic is also a prebiotic-rich food source that aids in preventing cancer and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. This also helps boost the body’s ability to fight infections. Under-ripe bananas which are greenish, less sweet and appealing also contain prebiotics, and despite the lack of flavour, under-ripe bananas can easily be made into smoothies.
Other sources of prebiotics include raw dandelion greens (which also contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), raw asparagus, chicory root (which is useful in baking because of its binding properties) as well as acacia gum (which is used in many supplements and even ice cream).
Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not affected by heat, cold, acid or time. However, similar to probiotics, these “superfoods” require consistency when being consumed. The good bacteria in the gut needs an abundant supply of “fuel” to function, otherwise, they can be depleted, resulting in the susceptibility of the body to infections. A useful method to ensure a sufficient amount of prebiotics, and even probiotics, is consumed is by making a schedule.
Now that you know all about prebiotics & probiotics, time to get prepared to suit up your gut with the best of health!
*Note: This article is not to replace that of your health practitioner’s advice. Seek further advice where necessary.