Regenerative Health Solutions Series: Prebiotics, An Essential Part of Feeling Your Best
Alex Callagy, Market Analyst and Business Strategy Consultant at We Grow Green Tech, Helene Thibieroz
Many people are aware of the importance of probiotics. They are live microorganism that are part of creating a healthy ecosystem in your gut and can be found in yogurts, sauerkraut, and kombucha. But nutritional scientists are now beginning to recognize the importance of prebiotics as well.
Prebiotics’ helpful influence promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in our stomachs, leading to a healthier body, a more focused mind, and may even prevent the growth of some cancers. They are all-natural and found in many common types of fruits and vegetables. They also contribute to creating a healthy gut lining, which is the source of more than 70% of immune system cells found in the human body. But what are prebiotics?
What are Prebiotics?
In essence, prebiotics are like fertilizer, making sure that your digestive system is healthy by feeding the bacteria inside it. They are a type of micronutrient found in some natural foods that have numerous beneficial effects on mammals. However, they are actually indigestible by the mammals themselves. Instead, the dietary fibers that make up prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria native to the mammalian digestive tracts, allowing them to thrive and produce natural byproducts that help the colon stay healthy.
There are two main types of prebiotics: galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and fructans, which consist of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin. GOS is derived from lactose extension and has been found to stimulate Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, two very important probiotics. Fructans are found in plants, with inulin derived from chicory being a very common additive in food containing prebiotics. There have also been recent developments involving the use of polyphenol groups as the next generation of prebiotics. These polyphenols can link together on the microscopic level to form a connective tissue to act akin to fertile soil, creating a nutrient-rich environment for healthy bacteria to grow, requiring far less dosage than FOS or GOS.
Since their first identification in 1995 by Glen Gibson and Marcel Roberfroid, studies have begun to show how truly influential probiotics can be in improving our health. Originally seen as an indigestible form of fiber that helped selectively cultivate helpful bacteria, we are only now beginning to recognize the myriad of effects of prebiotics on people.
What Are the Effects of Prebiotics on People (and Pets)?
Prebiotics have been shown to have a myriad of potential positive effects including: increasing cognitive ability, treating gastroenteritis, treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and decreasing symptoms from influenza.They can also help control the rate that blood sugar spikes and keep you more regular by allowing foods to ferment faster, letting them exit your system more quickly.
Prebiotics do have negative side-effects, but they are relatively mild. Having too many prebiotics in your system at one time can lead to flatulence and, in extreme cases, diarrhea. This is because prebiotics are tiny fibers that our bodies cannot digest. Because of these effects, it is recommended to start with smaller amounts to allow your body time to get used to them.
Interestingly, prebiotics do not only benefit humans. Testing has shown physical and mental benefits for other mammals, including in some pets. Cultivating the helpful bacteria in the stomach of your pets might even be a way to reduce foul odor in their excrement.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics
Though they both have valuable effects on the gut, prebiotics and probiotics are different types of nutrients. Probiotics are living microorganisms, while prebiotics are a dietary fiber that probiotics. So, the presence of prebiotics allows probiotics to work more effectively. So essentially, prebiotics are the nourishment that allows probiotics to provide helpful boons to our digestive tracts and having an optimal level of prebiotics allows for maximizing this synergistic relationship.
At the moment, science knows more about probiotics than prebiotics. However, research is beginning to show that prebiotics have a greater role in overall health, while probiotics may not have as great an effect as previously thought. There is also significant experimentation to establish prebiotics as a treatment for digestive ailments, like gluten sensitivity, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Many people now combine prebiotics with probiotics for an increased benefit. Because probiotics are short-lived, prebiotics are sometimes added to probiotics to maintain their levels in the gut. This combination of pro- and prebiotics is called “synbiotic therapy” or “synbiotics.”
What Foods Have Prebiotics?
Prebiotics can be found in a variety of all-natural foods, mostly fruits and vegetables. Excellent sources of prebiotics include :
- Honey, Milk (both human and cow),
- Apples among many, many others.
You also can find an increasing amount of prebiotic supplements, chicory root being the most commonly used type due to its commercial viability and cost. More recently, an emerging trend has also been to add prebiotics as an ingredient to food and beverages. Prebiotics can also be found in certain pet foods and products.
Doctors recommend at least 5 grams of traditional prebiotics (FOS or GOS) per day for any noticeable effect. While prebiotics are generally safe, there are some adverse side-effects with having high dosages of prebiotics and you should always consult your doctor before making large changes to your diet.