Probiotics & Prebiotics: How They Work to Benefit Our Gut and Overall Health
A happy gut typically makes for a happy body. This is because our gut health plays a significant role in the upkeep of not only our digestive health, but also our immune, heart, and brain health.
In recent years, the complexities of the gut – more specifically, the gut microbiome, which is the diverse community of 100+ trillion good and bad microorganisms – have come to light. As more and more health benefits have been uncovered, one category of bacteria has arguably gained the most popularity: probiotics.
Probiotics are live microorganisms (typically bacteria, but sometimes yeast) found naturally in the body; they can help regulate digestion and restore gut health after illness – especially after taking antibiotics, explains Jefferson Health Registered Dietitian Melissa Parisi. They are also commonly consumed in fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and some types of cheese.
While probiotics can perform on their own, prebiotics – specific types of dietary fiber found in a variety of foods – help support and maintain a consistent process. Prebiotics fuel probiotics, along with other good bacteria. They are found in a wider variety of foods, including asparagus, artichokes, avocados, garlic, onions, bananas, apples, oats, whole grains, and more.
Incorporating these foods into our daily diets may help mitigate the negative effects that stress and illness have on digestion, says Parisi, particularly for those who struggle with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
Studies suggest many other potential benefits, including reduced antibiotic-related diarrhea; reduced inflammation; and even reduced levels of anxiety and depression. (Note, this research is ongoing, as many scientists are continuously uncovering the best strains for particular conditions.)
Before you jump to the shelves of your nearest pharmacy for the seemingly more convenient option – supplements – be sure to check with your healthcare provider first, urges Parisi. “They may be recommended in certain cases, but your doctor or dietitian is there to help find the best one for you.”
Adjusting your diet is the ideal first course of action, of course, as food should be your primary source. If you’ve never tried some of the pre- and probiotic-heavy foods listed above, it’s important to introduce them to your diet gradually, adds Parisi. “Consuming too much at once may have the opposite of the intended effect and result in more stomach upset. Additionally, certain bacterium can be harmful to those with compromised immune systems.”
As all healthy eating tips go, consuming probiotics and prebiotics isn’t a “quick fix” or an “all or nothing” solution; they are best consumed in moderation, as part of an overall well-balanced diet.
If you’ve experienced a new or unusual amount of disruption in the gut, it may indicate a poor diet, with not enough good bacteria. Remember, to feel your best, gut balance is a must.
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