Probiotics and Prebiotics

In recent years, there has been a huge expansion in our understanding about the importance of gut bacteria in gut health. Just the sheer number of microbes in our gut should make us sit up and take notice. Our large intestines contain nearly 100 trillion “good bacteria” that are essential for health. They are called microbiome and help maintain bowel function, regulating weight, mood and immunity too. With such vast effects on our entire well-being, it makes sense that we take good care of it. The two main ways we care for it is by consuming probiotics and prebiotics.

The word “Probiotics” is derived from “probios” meaning conducive to life of host. They are live microorganisms that when given in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host. Everyone starts with a unique microbiome at birth. We add to or subtract from it on the basis of food we eat.

We’ve been consuming probiotics since ages (more than 10,000 years ago) long before we were aware of it in the form of yogurt, kefir, beer, wine and bread. Some of the best ways to add probiotics to your diet are

  • Fermented foods- During fermentation, beneficial bacteria break down the carbohydrates in familiar foods and multiply. This process changes the flavor of foods and makes many vitamins and minerals available too. They can be obtained from milk-based products like yogurt, kefir and buttermilk. Just make sure that your yogurt has live active cultures in it; plant based sources like sauerkraut from cabbage, pickles, beverages like unpasteurized kombucha and also from foods made from fermentation of rice and pulses, like idli, dosa and dhokla are good sources of probiotics.
  • Of course there are probiotic supplements, but these contain just a few strains of bacteria compared to the 3000 or so strains in the intestines. They also have to be able to survive the gastric acid barrier in order to be effective. Also, there are specific probiotics for specific conditions like Irritable bowel syndrome.

Have you ever wondered about how do antibiotics affect probiotics?

Antibiotics, which are used to treat infections, are very harmful to gut bacteria. Especially, broad-spectrum antibiotics kill a vast array of microbes. In the absence of good bacteria, bad bacteria like Clostridium Difficile, multiply and cause a lot of damage. To replace the good bacteria takes a long time and consumption of copious amounts of fermented foods and supplements.

Antibiotics are one of the biggest discoveries of the 20th century and their contribution to reducing mortality is so huge that infections are not the leading cause of death anymore. But they shouldn’t be taken unless absolutely necessary and the narrower the spectrum, the better it is.

Now, you can also help your body produce good bacteria. You do so by consuming prebiotics. They are nutrients that act as food for the gut bacteria. The bacteria breakdown the healthy food you’ve eaten and produce substances that have far reaching effects such as improving cognition and learning, decreasing dementia, improving mood, reducing inflammation, decreasing the risk of colorectal cancer, Irritable bowel syndrome, reducing cholesterol, improving calcium absorption, improving skin and more.

Prebiotics are much safer than probiotics. The extent of side effects of prebiotics includes diarrhea, bloating, cramping and flatulence. Whereas, the risk with probiotics is far more severe like bacteremia, sepsis and endocarditis, especially in people with prominent immunodeficiency.

Prebiotics are found in foods rich in insoluble fiber. They are found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lentils, and pulses and of course our dates, nuts, ginger, and moringa rich products! Indeed, a sugar purified from moringa leaves helps improve the population of some beneficial gut microbes.

Good health is easy and fun to maintain. Just make it a habit to eat a diverse range of pro and prebiotics, make movement part of your daily routine, get sun exposure daily, don’t drink and smoke. Just doing these things will improve your mood and well-being and you can spend your time in more creative and fun pursuits!