Digestive care is often not given the amount of attention it deserves, when in fact a problem-free gut and digestive system equate to the overall health and well-being of individuals. And as the famous saying goes, “you are what you eat,” so what goes into the gut and digestive system has a profound impact on the health of the body.
Our body and specifically our gut (the lining of the gastrointestinal tract to be exact) has a huge number of tiny microorganisms thriving inside it, mostly consisting of bacteria. These microorganisms create an ecosystem within the gut which is known as the microbiome or the microbiota. This microbiota plays a significant role in our health. The microbes present might be symbionts (when the bacteria have a positive and healthy impact on the body) or pathogens (when the bacteria have an unhealthy impact on the body). The symbionts help with the digestion and absorption of nutrients, carry out the synthesis of certain important amino acids and vitamins, and improve the overall immune function of the body. When pathogens enter the body, the symbionts keep them at bay or keep the count of pathogens low by either secreting substances harmful to the pathogens or by surrounding the pathogens. Further, the symbiont bacteria break down the dietary fiber in the large intestine that is not digested in the small intestine and give out short-chain fatty acids; these fatty acids improve the metabolism of fat for weight loss, strengthen the mucosal lining of the intestine to ease absorption of minerals, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
With so many benefits, it is important to provide nutrition to these beneficial bacteria, and that’s where probiotics and prebiotics come into the picture.
What are prebiotics and probiotics?
The dietary fiber that is a source of food and growth for the gut bacteria is termed prebiotics. A more scientific definition of prebiotics is: “nondigestible carbohydrates that stimulate the growth and activity of healthy bacteria species in the large intestines.” A daily intake of 5 to 8 grams of plant-based prebiotics is recommended, which equates to 2 cups of leafy greens or a half cup of beans or food like asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, chicory roots, leeks, onions, raw dandelion greens, bananas, spinach, whole wheat, soybeans, and oats.
Probiotics are live yeast or bacteria that are found in fermented foods or as supplements; when consumed, these bacteria reside in the gut, improving the health of the gut and one’s overall well-being. The scientific definition for probiotics is: “live microorganisms present in fermented food or supplements that provide health benefits to the human host.” Adding a small quantity of fermented foods to the diet may aid in the growth and proliferation of the healthy bacteria, but supplements and their dosage must be taken only after consultation with a physician. Probiotic sources in the diet include water kefir, soy sauce, tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut.
Thus, probiotics and prebiotics have a significant role in human health, especially the digestive system.