Prebiotics and probiotics both play an important role in gut health and overall wellness.
Probiotics are the good bacteria colonizing our gut that help us break down foods and are conferred to us during a vaginal delivery. In fact, these beneficial bacteria provide a wide range of healthful benefits that range from cancer protection, a stronger immune system, and healthy skin to a clearer more positive mind. The latest science from Boston Children’s Hospital and Tufts Medical School is that the good bacteria temper our genetics and control the penetrance of autoimmune diseases.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, our gut has evolved. During that time our gut and the bacteria that live there have formed a strong connection with the host through the brain itself.
The gut uses chemical messengers to ‘cross-talk’ with the entire body. 500 million neurons in the gut make up the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is really what we call our second brain which sits in the gut.
Our second brain uses over 30 neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin just like our first brain. Astonishingly, 95% of your serotonin and 50% of your dopamine is located in your gut which underlies the influence your gut has on cognitive and emotional health.
Don’t expect your second brain to ask life’s really big questions, but it can tell us how to feel. It will send butterflies before a performance and signal gut instincts before the spark of a thought flashes in the brain. Vibrance and daily wellness depend on the gut signaling good vibes (chemical and energetic) from our lower brain to our upper brain.
Your gut is home to a thriving community of bacteria. To put this into perspective you are made up of as many bacterial cells as you are human cells. There is a philosophical question packed in there somewhere. If you are counting that is 39 trillion cells. Fun Fact: 86% of your human cells are red blood cells.
A good deal of variety exists within each person’s microbiome, the fancy term for all that genetic material living together in our gut. I like to picture the microbiome as an active bacterial ashram of sorts.
There are between 500 and 1000 species of bacteria that call your gut home. The vast majority of our bacterial cells are concentrated in the lower gut, or specifically the colon.
Fun Fact: Dental plaque is the area that is most densely packed with bacteria (harmful bacteria)! However, plaque is found in such minimal volume that it does not compare to the number of bacteria that is teaming in the gut.
Fortunately, there are plenty of good guy bacteria. These good guy bacteria are referred to collectively as probiotics. Some of the more well-known strains with documented benefits include; Lactobaccilus plantarum, Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Lactobaccilus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum.
Benefits of Probiotics
- Fortifies the gut lining. The gut lining is like a cellular chain armor that is impermeable to microbes, viruses, toxins, and waste. Gut health and challenges cause chinks in the armor which allows nasties through which causes inflammation and cellular damage.
- Improves the balance of healthy bacteria by giving the good guys a boost.
- Promotes digestion and breakdown of nutrients thus assisting the body naturally with food allergies.
- Supports healthy immune system. 70% of immune system is in the gut.
- Support positive mood. 90% of dopamine and 50% of serotonin is in the gut.
- Supports cognitive health and clear mind.
- Supports healthy cell division and termination.
- Helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- Supports glucose sensitivity.
- Inactivates certain pathogens and gut born illnesses.
- Supports antioxidant activity and free radical scavenging.
Probiotics are naturally occurring in some foods, can be added to others, or be taken in potent supplements to increase and reinforce good bacteria. Supplemental probiotics are especially useful after a round of antibiotics, or anytime your microbiome is injured. The sad truth is that our microbiome is under constant assault from herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals in our food, water, air, cleaning and beauty supplies.
Did you know that babies are born without any bacteria in their gut? Not a single microbial cell to help break down food, protect the lining of the gut or metabolize nutrients like Vitamin K for blood clotting. Mama is going to introduce bacteria through the birthing process and provide a substrate in breastmilk for the good bacteria to take hold.
This substrate is a prebiotic. Prebiotics are undigestible fibers that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. In the case of mother’s milk, we find oligosaccharides present in breast milk, which fits our definition.
Prebiotics are certain undigestible fibers that pass through your stomach unchanged. Like probiotics prebiotics are found naturally in some foods, can be added to others, or be taken in supplement form.
Types of Prebiotic Fibers
- Fructans – A polymer of fructose molecules also called fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Fructans naturally occur in foods such as agave, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions, and wheat.
- Galactans – Another type of oligosaccharide (complex carbohydrate). Galactans are chains of the galactosucrose. The primary dietary sources of galactans are certain legumes, baked beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas.
- Inulin – A group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants. It is most often extracted from chicory to be used industrially in high fiber foods like Fiber One bars. Foods high in inulin include chicory root, dandelion root, asparagus, leeks and oninos, bananas and plantains, artichokes, yams, jicama, yacon root, and garlic.
Prebiotic fibers selectively benefit the good bacteria so that when prebiotic fibers reach the colon undigested the bacteria go to town like a picnic in the park. This picnic kicks off a fermentation process that creates short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are what we came here for. We will learn more about SCFAs in a future post.