There is a lot of talk nowadays about probiotics. What the heck are they? Well we learn a little about probiotics during a television commercial with a yogurt product called Activia which claims to help populate your gut with good bacteria. If it could be so simple! Did anyone say our current diet could be eroding the good bacteria? No! Anyway, probiotics are the first step in being aware and empowered in our gut health and integrity.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that flourish in your digestive track but they require a balanced pH (potential hydrogen) environment to stick around. Some voices would argue they do not stick around but wash out. They help your body digest nutrients, absorb vitamins, stop inflammation and stop the growth of bad bacteria. Bad bacteria are classified as anaerobic bacteria. If these bad bacteria are left unchecked your food will not digest like it should but will ferment and produce toxins. You will have discomfort, gas and bloating. After eating you will feel bad. Yuck!
Maintaining the friendly bacteria in the GI tract is paramount to good health. In order for the small intestines to work properly, it is important to nourish this tissue with an ample supply of friendly bacteria called probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that when eaten in adequate amounts as part of food intake support the host’s health. Some individuals call probiotics the “ultimate neighborhood watch” as they are continually keeping guard against harmful bacteria, parasites and other pathogens that want to rob our health.
Probiotics are the active participants in a wide range of health promoting mechanisms in the GI tract. Probiotics support health cell growth, maintain the gut barrier, build the cell wall, reduce inflammation, stop pathogen adhesion and enhance the immune system. Our diet profoundly affects the gut flora just as it affects the rest of our health. A diet high in sugar and starches such as flour-containing foods limit probiotics’ growth. However, a vast array of plants we can eat will encourage the growth of healthy intestinal flora. While probiotics are the healthy bacteria, prebiotics are the foods that feed them.
A prebiotic is a nondigestable food ingredient that positively affects the growth and activity of bacteria in the colon and improves over all health13. Examples of prebiotics are disaccharides, polysaccharides and oligiosaccharides. These are complex carbohydrates that migrate to the colon where they are selectively fermented by specific bacteria. This fermentation process stimulates the growth and activities of other bacterial species that already reside in the colon.
The probiotic prebiotic phenomena creates a chain reaction whether in the small intestines or colon by releasing a vital short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid (butyrate) that improves gut function and promotes an anti-inflammatory response in the GI tract. Short chain fatty acids are the ideal fuel for the epithelial cells that line the gut, nurturing them to ideal health and function. Supplements nowadays can contain both probiotics and prebiotics called “Synbiotics.”
An ideal way to maintain proper gut flora is using a synbiotic that is from soil-based organisms. When we talk about maintaining good gut flora over the long term for optimal function and graceful aging this combination shows promise. Who would of thought we are made up of a soup of bugs and that we need to be proactive in maintaining the good gut bugs and not the bad?
To your health,