Probiotics and Prebiotics
Why you need them!
Probiotics and prebiotics are both essential for good health. In this article we will examine what they are, what happens when your gut is unhealthy, the differences between them, why they are so important for overall health (not just the health of your gut), and what the potential problems are with using probiotics and prebiotics.
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain 'good' bacteria. Often people refer to the bacteria themselves as probiotics but once they are inside a person's body they are simply bacteria! However, since it is a term people can relate to and understand we will refer to the bacteria as probiotics.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a special type of dietary fibre that nourishes the good bacteria already living in the colon. Sometimes certain foods (like honey) are called prebiotics, but they aren't actually prebiotics themselves but instead contain a small amount of prebiotics.
What happens when your gut is unhealthy?
A poor diet (one that lacks prebiotic fibre or probiotic foods), use of anti-biotics, and a stressful lifestyle can all lead to an abnormal mix of bacteria in the colon, whereby the 'bad' bacteria outnumber the 'good' bacteria.
This may lead to range of health problems including inflammation of the colon, which causes pain, gas, bloating, constipation, etc. It also results in excess calories being absorbed into the body due to the 'bad' bacteria breaking down additional fibres in the gut.
A condition known as 'leaky gut' or intestinal hyperpermeability also results when the mix of bacteria in the gut is not correct. This results in toxins being absorbed into the body, wreaking havoc with the normal bodily functions.
Since prebiotics support the 'good' bacteria, a range of healthy hormones and chemicals get produced. Some of these hormones and chemicals may reduce cancer risk. Therefore, a lack of prebiotcs in the diet may result in an increased cancer risk.
Research has recently discovered that a predominance of 'bad' bacteria in the colon results in the production of 'bad' hormones that then get absorbed into the bloodstream and affect physical and mental health. It will be interesting to see what the future research in this area discovers.
What are the differences
Probiotics and prebiotics are vastly different. Probiotics are fragile living organisms ('good' bacteria) that must be kept alive in order to impart the health benefits they offer. Probiotics may be killed by acid (i.e. stomach acid), heat and 'old age'. They occur naturally in fermented foods, like yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut, but when these foods are pasteurised (heated) the probiotics are destroyed. Probiotics are also contained in supplement form but generally only contain a few strains of bacteria. Probiotics ('good' bacteria) help to reduce the impact of 'bad' bacteria in the colon by crowding them out.
between probiotics and prebiotics?
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are food for the 'good' bacteria in the colon, which allows them to flourish. It is found is many foods, especially plant foods, but in small quantities. It may also be found in supplements in concentrated forms. BCN's DigestEZE and BCN's Gastro Forte AG are two examples.
Prebiotics are not affected by heat, acid or age and are therefore far more durable than probiotics. Probiotics and prebiotics together, help to lower the pH in the colon, which is beneficial for the 'good' bacteria and harmful to the 'bad' bacteria.
What are the benefits of using probiotics and prebiotics?
Both probiotics and prebiotics have a range of health benefits.
Probiotics can provide relief from the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, treat diarrhoea caused by certain bacteria or the use of anti-biotics, regulate the immune response, treat and prevent eczema caused by certain allergens, treat secondary infections caused by anti-biotic use, decrease the severity of colds and flus, reduce lactose intolerance, and may treat painful inflammation.
Prebiotics improve the balance of bacteria within the gut (more 'good' bacteria and less 'bad' bacteria), they improve the functioning of the gut by increasing the bulk, regularity and softness of the stools, prebiotics improve the absorption of certain minerals from the colon including, magnesium and calcium, they help to increase feelings of satiety (fullness) by impacting certain hormones such as, leptin and ghrelin, they also slow down the absorption of glucose from a meal, which makes it easier to keep the blood sugar level stable, prebiotics enhance the immune system by improving gut function.
Since over 70% of the immune system is in the gut, improving gut functioning results in an enhanced immune system. Prebiotics strengthen the colon wall (and therefore reduces the incidence of 'leaky gut') because the 'good' bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including butyerate, which acts as a fuel for the endothelial cells. Butyerate also increases the acidity of the colon, which is the ideal environment for the 'good' bacteria and is harmful to the 'bad' bacteria. This results in a more favourable bacteria mix in the gut. Prebiotics also reduce intestinal infection caused by 'bad' bacteria since they enhance the growth of the 'good' bacteria so the 'bad' bacteria get crowded out.
Since prebiotics improve gut functioning as well as the health of the body overall, they also reduce the risk of disease such as, obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and pouchitis), polyps and cancer.
What are the potential problems with using probiotics and prebiotics?
There are several potential problems with taking probiotics but few, if any, with taking prebiotics.
Since probiotics are living organisms they are very fragile. If they are exposed to heat (even room temperature) they can be destroyed. This is the main reason why they must be kept refrigerated as much as possible. Also, as with all living organisms, they suffer from the ageing process. Therefore, the longer they remain on a shelf or in storage the less potent they are likely to be. Also, processing destroys the bacteria too. For example, the process of pasteurisation kills the bacteria present in yoghurt.
Our stomachs produce strong acid that protects our bodies from being invaded by foreign organisms. Unfortunately though, the acid also kills the 'good' bacteria, such as those found in probiotics.
Only a few strains
Another drawback of most probiotics on the market is the fact that they contain only a few strains of bacteria (generally 1-3) whilst our colon contains hundreds or more likely thousands of different strains. Furthermore, probiotics usually contain several billion bacteria. Even though this may seem like a lot it is actually only a tiny fraction of the trillions (with a 'T') of bacteria contained in our colon. This means that a probiotic supplement only supplies about 0.1% of the bacteria that is already present in your gut!
Must be nourished or replaced
When probiotics are taken, if they are not nourished (by combining their use with prebiotics) to increase their numbers or if they are not replaced (through daily probiotic consumption) they will be excreted by the body and bacteria numbers will return to previous levels within 2-3 weeks.
Tend to be associated with excess sugar or calories
Another problems associated with probiotic use is the fact that they are generally associated high levels of sugar or excess calories, i.e. probiotic choc balls. This is the same problem that's associated with some prebiotics, whereby they have been added to certain processed foods, like 'fibre' bars, as a marketing ploy to make the food appear 'healthy'!
What can be done to overcome the problems?
There is no doubt that taking probiotics and prebiotics is beneficial for us. However, the problems associated with using them, particularly the probiotics, means that you should take the steps necessary in order to ensure you get maximum benefits and minimise the potential problems.
Here are some things you can do:
Take a high-dose probiotic and prebiotic
Probiotics and prebiotics vary greatly in the amount of ingredients they provide. For example, probiotics range from 5 million colony forming units (CFUs- a measure of bacteria levels in a product) up to 500 billion CFUs. Generally though, it is recommended to use a product that has at least 20 billion CFUs. This will ensure that a reasonable number will make it past the stomach (assuming most of them are still alive when the probiotic is taken).
It is best to use 5-10 grams of prebiotic fibre every day. However, if you have a pre-existing bowel condition, i.e. irritable bowel syndrome, up to 15 grams should be consumed daily.
Only use a refrigerated probiotic
Refrigeration prolongs the life of the bacteria so make sure that the probiotic has been refrigerated throughout its entire life.
Ensure the product has a long expiration date
A long expiration date on the probiotic means that the bacteria are still 'young'. Therefore, there is much greater likelihood that all of the bacteria will still be alive.
Use a 'coated' probiotic
It may be worthwhile using a 'coated' probiotic. Even though these products have yet to proven superior to standard probiotics, they may help to protect the bacteria from being destroyed by stomach acid.
Take probiotics with water on an empty stomach
By taking probiotics with water on an empty stomach the bacteria will be able to bypass the stomach with minimal destruction by the stomach acid. If they are taken with food, the bacteria will remain in the stomach for a much longer period of time and will be exposed to a far greater amount of harmful acid. This will significantly reduce the number of bacterium that survive and pass through to the colon.
Mix it with bicarbonate soda before consumption
Another way to reduce the impact stomach acid has on probiotics is to break open the capsules and mix the contents in water with bicarbonate soda before consumption. This will help to neutralise some of the stomach acid, reducing the impact it has on the bacteria.
Ensure your probiotics and prebiotics does not have added sugar or calories
It is best to use supplement forms of probiotics and prebiotics rather than foods that have had probiotics and prebiotics added to them to avoid any unnecessary excess calories from being consumed with them.
Speak to your healthcare practitioner about the best probiotic for you.
One of the very best prebiotics to use is BCN's Gastro Forte AG. It contains a pure form of arabinogalactans (a high-quality prebiotic) from the western larch tree. It dissolves instantly in water and has a very mild, pleasant taste. It may also be added to cereal or other foods to easily increase your daily prebiotic intake.
If you suffer from any gut problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut or Crohn's disease, then it is strongly recommended to use a probiotic in combination with BCN's Gastro Forte AG and BCN's DigestEZE.
BCN's DigestEZE contains a range of prebiotics along with other ingredients that have the effect of soothing an inflamed gut, nourishing the gut bacteria and the cells of the gut wall as well as promoting healing of the gut lining.
Both BCN's Gastro Forte AG and BCN's DigestEZE are available from health food stores and pharmacies everywhere.
Our knowledge of gut health is in its infancy but is growing fast! Since it appears that gut health plays such an important role in the overall health of our body, taking steps to ensure it functions optimally should be a priority for everyone.
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