Scientists are finding more and more that our microbiome (the tiny creatures living in our gut) are hugely important to our health. Bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms make up our microflora (Source). Microflora influence our genetic expression, immune system, brain health, weight, and risk for many illnesses, including cancer.
Over the last decade, probiotics & prebiotics have become more popular. Until a few years ago, when I was reading the book, “The Plan” by Lyn Genet, I did not know of them, but now they are a part of my daily regimen. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help aid digestion and control growth of harmful bacteria (Source). Prebiotics are digestible carbs that feed probiotics.
Probiotics live in our intestinal tract and they are key to keeping our GI system healthy. The health of our gut is hugely important for our overall health – so probiotics have been called “the key to our immune system.” Also in our gut, 80% of our brain hormones are made, which impacts how we feel mentally and emotionally. They get there from foods that we eat or taking a probiotic supplement. Any food that is cultured or fermented contains probiotics, such as unpasteurized no sugar added plain yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, aged cheese such as Parmesan or Gouda, pickled veggies such as sauerkraut & kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha and beer and wine. (Source). Adding fermented foods – which can contain 100 times more probiotics than a supplement – to each meal is a great way to get that good bacteria into your body (Source). Besides keeping us regular, some of the main health benefits of probiotics are: an improved immune system, decreased inflammation, lower chances of colon cancer and reduced blood pressure and cholesterol.
Eating a healthy and varied diet is very important because it keeps your microbiome running effectively and efficiently. Processed foods and sugars feed the bad bacteria, and antibiotics kill the good bacteria (along with the bad). 80 percent of our immune system is located in our gut, which is why our gut is the key to our health. A strong immune system is your first defense against all sicknesses and diseases. (Source)
A study at Duke University found that breastmilk, which is always touted for protecting newborns from illnesses, helps to normalize an infant’s microflora, which then protects against disease and developmental problems. From this study, “We know that babies who receive breast milk have better outcomes in many ways, and mother who breast feed also have improved health outcomes, including decreased risks of cancer. Whenever possible, promoting breast feeding is the absolute best option for mom and baby.” It is interesting to make the connection now between breastfeeding and gut health.
Now, on to prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for probiotics. Most prebiotics are a form of fiber which our body does not digest, but the probiotics do. Feeding the probiotics helps them to stay at work to keep us healthy. Foods with prebiotics are: raw garlic, leek, and onions, raw Jerusalem artichoke, raw chicory root, whole wheat, fruits and vegetables and legumes.
The best way to consume probiotics and prebiotics is through food sources, but usually we fall short. If you are looking for a probiotic supplement, it should be a refrigerated supplement with at least 20 billion cultures per capsule. Additionally, these three strains have been found to be most important: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium and saccharomyces boulardii (source) but based on your health needs, you can research what strains would be most beneficial to you.
Do you take a probiotic or eat various probiotic and prebiotic foods?