Discover the dynamic duo that work hand-in-hand to bring harmony to your microbiome
You’re probably familiar with probiotics, the live microorganisms present in yoghurt and fermented foods. You can’t get far in today’s supermarket aisles without stumbling upon a promise of some ‘good’ bacteria for your gut. But, while all the accolades rain down on probiotics as our ‘gut health heroes’ we’d like to mention their lesser-celebrated side-kicks, prebiotics, too. “Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms for our health,” says Dr. Kate Stephens, Optibac Probiotics gut microbiologist, “and prebiotics are the fibres they feed on to grow and thrive.” Think of it this way, if your gut is a garden, probiotics are the seeds and prebiotics are the fertilizer that helps them flourish.
The two main species of bacteria found in the gut are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Within these two species, there are a lot of strains with very different functions.
“Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium longum – have been shown to support the immune functions,” explains Dr. Laure Hyvernat, nutrition and natural health expert, and founder of thenaturalconsultation.com. “These are recommended in autoimmune conditions and gut dysbiosis. The gut microbiome is also composed of yeast. A beneficial yeast that is often prescribed as a probiotic is Saccharomyces boulardii – Scientific studies have proven its effectiveness in Clostridium diffcicile (C. Difficile) infection and antibiotic-induced diarrhoea by increasing secretory IgA (SigA) which strengthen the immune system.” When it comes to prebiotics, look for products containing psyllium, oat bran, oligofructose, xylooligosaccharide, inulin, beta-glucan and arabinogalactan, as these are all beneficial in feeding friendly bacteria.
We are made of more bacteria than human cells, so needless to say, our microbiome has infinite power on both our body and mind. “Friendly bacteria (probiotics) play various roles,” says Laure, “from turning on enzymes, turning off genes and breaking down some essential nutrients to optimise their absorption. Their health benefits are also numerous in mental conditions such as autism, anxiety and depression. Remarkably, scientists have even found that some strains of bacterium could play a role in the healthy ageing process.
“All of the microbes in our gut form an ecosystem and must be kept in a harmonious balance – like a rainforest or coral reef would need to be,” says Kate. “By adding prebiotics to the gut, these are selectively utilised by beneficial microbes. This boosts your numbers of good bacteria, and in addition, the action of the probiotic feeding on the prebiotic can produce short chain fatty acids which have been shown to exert numerous health benefits.”
This microbiome microcosm exists naturally in our bodies while we go about our daily lives, and many of us barely give it a second thought. However, poor diet (low-fibre, high-sugar) travel, stress, antibiotics, some medications (including steroids, PPI’s and metformin) and even being born by c-section can deplete levels of beneficial bacteria, leading to imbalance. This is known as dysbiosis.
“60-80 percent of immunity sits in the gut,” says Laure, “which is an open door to any sort of infections from pathogenic bacteria, yeasts or parasites. Killing these pathogenic bacteria or yeasts would never be a long-term fix if the environment is not addressed first and foremost.”
Microbiologists recommend avoiding inflammatory food, eating more fibre and prebiotics, managing stress and limiting antibiotic drugs to help maintain a harmonic balance in your gut. “Supplement with high-quality probiotics that have been researched for your needs,” suggests Kate, or even get prescribed a personalised plan by an expert, like Laure’s Reset protocol (thenaturalconsultation.com), to properly cleanse and reset the gut functions.
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