The Pros Of Prebiotics

Our gut is colonized by trillions of diverse bacteria. Each food we eat needs a different bacterium to break it down

We all know that our body is a complete ecosystem in itself with its internal fauna called the gut microbiome that is ever so crucial for our well-being, immunity & digestion. “Probiotics” are the live gut-friendly bacteria found in certain foods and supplements. The role of gut flora (an umbrella term for all the microorganisms residing in our gut) is very vast and includes functions like breaking down food, assimilation of nutrients, maintaining the intestinal mucosal barrier, protection from disease-causing pathogens, immunomodulation and much more.

Our gut is colonized by trillions of diverse bacteria. Each food we eat needs a different bacterium to break it down. Most of us feel a particular food doesn’t suit us or makes us gassy and bloated. In nutrition parlance, it simply means that your gut lacks a particular strain of bacteria required to break down that food. That’s because if you are not eating a variety of foods regularly, many kinds of bacteria may succumb due to their short lifespan.

Healthy gut flora thrives on “Prebiotics”. Simply put, prebiotics are food for probiotics. We all know that 80% of our immunity lies in our gut. And a healthy gut indicates better immunity. So, when you read or hear, “you are what you eat”, it implies that the better gut microbiome you have, the healthier you are. And how healthy your gut flora is, completely depends on what you eat.

Your very own Isabgol (psyllium husk) is insoluble fibre which cannot be digested by the gut is an excellent example of prebiotic food. You may be surprised to know that even honey can be a prebiotic food. While honey has no dietary fiber, it has oligosaccharides that can promote the growth of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, and as such, acts as a prebiotic for the gut, feeding the good bacteria and keeping your gut healthy. As a double whammy, it’s antibacterial effect also magnifies the probiotic defence against pathogens.

The richest source of prebiotic fibers are  raw versions of the following: garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, green leafy vegetables, bananas, apples. In general, you can derive your prebiotic fibers from fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains  like wheat, oats & barley, buckwheat, quinoa and millets, flaxseeds, nuts etc. And including all of the above ensures a diet that is balanced with both macro and micro nutrients.

Digestive enzymes act upon the indigestible fibres causing fermentation which in turn produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that can be used by the body as a nutrient source and also play an important role in muscle function and possibly, prevention of chronic diseases, including certain cancers & bowel disorders. Clinical researches reflect that SCFA may be useful in the treatment of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. This brings down the pH of the colon, which in turn determines the type of microbiota present that would survive in this acidic environment. The lower pH limits the growth of some harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile. Growing research on SCFA analyses their extensive effects on health, including stimulating immune cell activity and maintaining normal blood levels of glucose and cholesterol.

However, excess of anything is bad and this applies to fibre too. High intake of prebiotics, especially if introduced suddenly may increase bloating and flatulence. People with weak digestion and sensitive gut should slowly introduce high-fiber foods and assess tolerance. Gradually the tolerance improves with fewer after-effects.

For those without any food sensitivities, it is always beneficial to follow a diet high in fibre as it not only helps beneficial microbiota flourish, but also prevents infection from pathogenic bacteria that thrive easily in low acidic environment.

The best way to understand how prebiotics support probiotics, imagine them as part of a garden. If the probiotic bacteria are seeds, the prebiotic fibre is the water and fertilizer that helps the seeds to grow and flourish

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gut health Prebiotics


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