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Understanding Probiotics and Prebiotics

Firstly you need to know a bit about the microbiome.

The gut consists of a number of colonies of good bacteria (bacterial microbiome) and good viruses (virome) that play a major role in our health. We know more about the bacterial microbiome than we do the virome but in a few years we should know more.

What we do know is that the bacteria in our gut is essential for:

1. For our digestive health and prevention of gastrointestinal illnesses

2. Our immune system to work properly

3. For our mental health

4. For the creation of some digestive enzymes

Studies show that there is a direct link between an imbalanced microbiome and depression, anxiety and mental illness.

Scientists are also looking into a possible connection between the gut microbiome and autism, but the research is still in its early stages.

The more diverse our gut microbiome is the healthier we are.

The best ways to increase your microbiome diversity is to:

  • Eat more plants

  • Eat fermented foods - I am a firm believer of the trilogy - kefir, kombucha, and souerkrout.

  • Only take antibiotics when really necessary and ask your doctor if you can opt for a narrow spectrum antibiotic as opposed to a broad spectrum antibiotic like ‘Augmentin’

  • Avoid NSAIDS - ibupifen (nurofen), naprixen, asprin, etc. as much as possible

  • Get out in the countryside...touch soil, trees and plants

  • Don't over wash your hands Don't wash your whole body with soap daily and use only natural soaps (free from parabens, sulphites, Don't over wash your hair and use only natural shampoos

  • Take a probiotic supplement suited to your needs.

Probiotics are another name for good gut bacteria. We tend to refer to the bacteria that is already in our gut as good gut bacteria or the microbiome and the supplements that we can buy to help build up our microbiome as probiotics.

Probiotics are also the live microorganisms that are found in fermented and cultured foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sourdough, apple cider vinegar with mother, miso). These all add to the diversity of your microbiome.

Probiotic rich foods are considered living foods as well. Fermented and cultured foods are high in K2 (essential for bone health, the urinary system and heart health) as well as containing calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin (B2), vitamin C and small amounts of vitamin B12. They have many health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and provide anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic (heart disease) activity.

Probiotics in supplement form come in varying strengths and various strains of bacteria that benefit different conditions. Many people benefit from having both probiotics in food and probiotics in capsule form as well.

Prebiotics are found in foods that contain soluble fibre (see above under ‘Fibre’ section) and resistant starch (see above under ‘Starch’ section). Soluble fibre and resistant starch feed our good gut bacteria, helping to keep the colonies strong. Foods such as bananas, garlic, onions, asparagus, barley (gluten), rye (gluten), apples, strawberries, citrus fruits, carrots, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds oats and mushrooms are all good sources. There are many other benefits to soluble fibre and resistant starch (see under ‘Starch and ‘Fibre’ section). Prebiotics also come in capsule and powder form but there is no need to take prebiotic supplements if you eat enough soluble fibre. However those with IBS and IBD benefit form taking prebiotic supplements such as that sourced from acacia and baobab.

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