As our dear friends of the Journal know, we're slightly obsessed with all things health and wellness, especially nutrition. From the hottest trends in plant-based diets to binge-watching food documentaries on Netflix, we're on a perpetual quest to better understand how what we eat impacts our well-being. We've tried every milk alternative, from nut and coconut to hemp and oat. We eat gluten-free and organic foods as much as possible. And as cliché as this may sound, we still love kale!
But the latest buzz in the world of health isn't just about what we eat - it's about what's happening inside our body – specifically, our gut. So, for our latest Journal entry, we're diving into the fascinating realm of gut health, exploring not only probiotics but also the often-overlooked importance of prebiotics. To learn more about what makes our gut happy and how the dynamic duo of probiotics and prebiotics can contribute to our wellness, read on.
What exactly are probiotics?
Probiotics (from pro and biota, meaning "for life") are made of live microorganisms and yeasts, also known as "good" bacteria, that live in our lower intestines and are beneficial to our health, especially our digestive systems. When we typically think of bacteria, we tend to think of illness and disease, but there are actually many types of bacteria that are helpful to our body.
How do probiotics work?
When we are born, we inherit probiotic gut bacteria from our mothers. But this good bacteria can be lost, often times due to taking antibiotics that don’t differentiate between good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics replenish good bacteria that we've lost, and offer many other benefits that support our immune system and overall health.
How can probiotics improve our health?
Probiotics help us move food through our gut and bring balance back to our GI tracts. While researchers are still discovering their full potential, probiotics are believed to relieve some of the most common gut issues such as: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), diarrhea and constipation, weight gain, as well as urinary and vaginal health.
With 60-80% of our immune system located in our gut, imbalances can also be linked to autoimmune diseases, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, rosacea and other chronic health problems.
Are prebiotics important?
Now, let's talk about the importance of prebiotics. While probiotics are the "good" bacteria that help maintain a healthy gut, prebiotics are equally vital. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that our bodies cannot digest, but they serve as food for probiotics. In essence, prebiotics provide nourishment for the beneficial bacteria in our gut, helping them flourish and do their job effectively.
So, do we really need prebiotics with our probiotics? Absolutely! Combining prebiotics with probiotics can enhance the effectiveness of the latter. Prebiotics act as a fertilizer for probiotics, ensuring they thrive and multiply. You can find prebiotics in foods like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and bananas. Including a variety of these prebiotic-rich foods in your diet can further support your gut health.
What are the main types of probiotics?
Without getting too scientific, we have over 100 trillion favorable and unfavorable bacterias in our gut, but there are two that are the most common: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
Lactobacillus is found in certain yogurts and other fermented foods (like kefir). Its different strains can help prevent or treat diarrhea, as well as help us digest lactose (sugars in milk) properly, which can be beneficial to those who are lactose intolerant.
Bifidobacterium can also be found in certain dairy products and may help relieve IBS symptoms, but it can also be responsible for restoring "good" bacteria in the intestinal tract that has been killed or damaged due to antibiotics, radiation or chemotherapy.
How can we heal ourselves?
Through the power of probiotics, clean eating, gut-healing foods and supplements, we can rid ourselves of many ailments that affect our everyday lives. In order to replenish our flora, we can find probiotics through cultured foods, such as coconut or almond milk, yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut or kimchee. These foods provide a source of probiotics and prebiotics, promoting a healthy gut environment.
Additionally, we can gear our diets more towards foods high in antioxidants, minerals and fatty acids, such as vegetables, fruits, wild meats and sprouted seeds rich in omega-3s. Combining these nutrient-rich foods with prebiotic sources like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and bananas can further support our gut health.
We can also consider taking probiotic supplements (though we recommend asking our nutritionist or doctor for recommendations based on our specific needs). Lastly, if none of these seem to do the trick, there are gut-cleansing programs, where herbs like berberine or oregano are used to remove harmful microbes.
In the words of Hippocrates, “All disease begins in the gut.” Our digestive system is the gateway to good health, and keeping it balanced is the key to unlocking long-lasting energy and vitality.