Are Probiotics + Prebiotics important for health?

By Natalia Otero Sancho | Chelsea Nutritionist

Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFMCP)
Registered Nutritionist MBANT CNHC FNTP

Jan 30, 2017

Intestinal health is key to the body overall health. The brain and gut are in constant communication, not just through its complex network of neurons but also through a number of chemicals and hormonal pathways, creating what is generally referred to as a brain-gut axis. This is why the enteric nervous system is often referred to as our body’s second brain, which can operate independently from the central nervous system

Amongst the symptoms of a bad intestinal health are:

  • Bloating
  • Reflux/Heartburn
  • Constipation and/ or diarrhea, undigested food
  • Osteoporosis
  • Nutrient deficiency (Vitamins A, B12, D, K and Coenzyme Q10)
  • Anemia
  • Chronic fatigue leading to depression, weight gain and sleep disturbances
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Acne, eczema and skin rushes
  • Chronic dysbiosis such as yeast infections/candida
  • Dry skin or hair
  • Food intolerances

The first variable that determines our gut’s health is the intestinal microbiota, the ecosystem of microorganisms that live in our gut, with more than 500 species, leading to a total of over 100 trillion living bacteria. They play many important roles, from helping digest food, to boosting immune defenses. Those good bacteria are usually referred to as probiotics, and we should aim to always replenish these bacterial colonies as they are extremely sensitive to heat and stomach acid, and their number may decrease in a vicious circle started by a number of illnesses.  

Two of the main probiotic bacteria are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Both can be taken in the form of supplements or included in the diet.  It is important to read product labels, looking for “active, live cultures” and preferentially raw, unpasteurized, perishable ingredients, as many products on the market contain a concentration far below what is the daily needed intake. Usually organic products should be preferred as they are not typically heat-treated after fermentation, leading to a higher concentration of good bacteria.

​A very important support that we can give to these probiotic bacteria, to keep them healthy and thriving, is to provide them with a constant stream of prebiotics. Prebiotics are soluble fibers, non-digestible in humans, but that serves as their critical food source. They are different from insoluble fiber – what most people refer to when they talk about dietary fiber and that helps to release waste from the bowel – as their function is to keep probiotics fed.

As an additional benefit of prebiotics, a compound called butyric acid is produced when the probiotics break down prebiotic foods in the colon. Butyric acid is the preferred form of fuel for the cells that line the colon, and it serves to acidify the environment as well, making it harder for harmful bacteria to survive. There are two primary useful prebiotics for the gut: inulin and oligofructose. One side of the colon prefers inulin (the left) and the other that prefers oligofructose (the right).

Eating and rotating different colours of vegetables daily contributes to 

a healthy gut and optimal health.

Prebiotic Foods:

  • Asparagus
  • Banana
  • Chicory
  • Dandelion greens
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Honey
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Jicama
  • Kefir
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Onions and shallots
  • Peas
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Radicchio
  • Whole grains (organic)
  • Yogurt (plain, no added sugar, active cultures)

Probiotic Foods:

  • Acidophilus milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese (aged)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Fermented meats
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Pickled vegetables (raw)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sour cream
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt (plain, no added sugar, active cultures)

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