I thought I’d kick off my very first blog post to cover prebiotics and probiotics as they play an important role in creating a healthy digestive system. Probiotics have become increasingly popular since the 1990’s and now the role of prebiotics in aiding digestion is gaining attention. Reviewing what they are and their benefits will help you to understand the importance of including both of them in your diet.
First I think it’s important to understand what “normal” human microflora is.
Every human has a microbial population which we get from our mother’s at birth. Though the microflora is present in different parts of the body, the gastrointestinal tract (GI) contains the largest population with approximately 100,000 billion bacteria.
The benefits of normal human gut flora (or GI bacteria) include:
Help stimulate the absorption of nutrients
Stimulate and balance the immune system
Help to prevent infections and pathological bacteria
Help reduce inflammation
Produces metabolic function
Improve digestion by stimulating intestinal peristalsis
There are different types of flora within the digestive system, where Lactobacilli Acidophilus dominates the Upper GI tract and the lower GI tract is dominated by Bifida, both of which are different strains of GI bacteria.
Consider that the following are potential causes of lowered healthy gut bacteria:
Birth control pills
Lowered healthy gut bacteria can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the digestive system.
Possible symptoms that may signify a decrease in healthy gut flora:
Indigestion or bloating
Diarrhea or constipation
Urinary tract infections
Yeast infections or candidiasis
Cold sores or canker sores.
This is why it’s so important to increase our healthy gut flora by introducing probiotics into our diet through our food or supplementation, to ensure the harmful bacteria doesn’t take over.
Probiotics are one of my favourite supplements to include in my diet to maintain a healthy digestive system. Both my husband and I and our kids take probiotics everyday. There is a lot to know when it comes to probiotics so I’ve tried to break it down for you into simplest terms as a quick reference guide.
What are probiotics
They are beneficial bacteria which are normally present in the digestive tract.1 Probiotics aid digestion and can prevent the overgrowth of yeast and other pathogens. Probiotics can also help synthesize vitamin K.2 The purpose of adding probiotics to your diet is to control the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics can be added to your diet by specific food sources or through supplementation.
Cultured or fermented foods such as:
Organic yogurt (preferably homemade).
Ideally you would include enough probiotics in your diet from food sources however for many people that is often not the case, therefore probiotic supplements are a great option.
Seek out supplements that are free from some of the common allergens such as soy, dairy and gluten. I recommend that when you take probiotics in supplement form you should try to rotate them every so often with different species/strains. Quality matters when it comes to your supplements and you essentially get what you pay for. I currently switch between Physica Energetics Flora Syntropy which is a shelf stable probiotic or Seroyal Genestra probiotics which I keep in the fridge. Both of these probiotics are dairy, soy free and gluten free. I recommend scouting out a local natural health store to purchase your supplements from or even order online from online stores like vitamart.ca.
Which type of probiotic is right for me:
Most probiotic supplements will include a mix of different strains of bacteria. Most common are Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum as they are beneficial bacteria which are normally present in the digestive tract.3 It is important to seek out probiotics supplements that contain human derived organisms so research the source! Many food products and even supplements claim to contain probiotics but they may not be from a quality source.
Some of the more common species and strains to consider are:
Ideal for reimplanting good bacteria in the colon.
Mild antibiotic, antibacterial
Help in the production of some B vitamins and Vitamin K
Commonly used to treat yeast infection4
Healthy bacteria that are resistant to acid and bile
May improve constipation, GI infections and diarrhea
Can help address candida
Support the immune system
This is a spore-forming, non-pathogenic bacteria naturally found in the GI and vaginal tract.
Resistant to heat, acid, bile and antibiotics
Can bind cholesterol in the gut and remove it from the body
Ideal for bacteria, parasites, diarrhea, constipation, antibiotic use, dysbiosis, candida5
A healthy bacteria more prevalent in infants but also part of the adult GI tract.
Helps the synthesis of B vitamins in food digestion
Inhibits growth of coliform bacteria6
Is a yeast which is a type of fungus
Ideal for diarrhea (including infectious types) and to prevent and address diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
For general digestion problems (IBS, IBD, Chron’s, Ulcerative Colitis)
May be used for lactose intolerance, UTIs Yeast infections, high cholesterol, acne7
Important in B vitamin biosynthesis
Aids digestion of foods, and inhibits other toxic bacteria and therefore may help in cases of diarrhea.8
How much to take?
A typical “maintenance” dosage would be about 10 billion per day for the average healthy adult, however, if you are taking supplements it is always best to check with your health practitioner for a recommended amount as it may be necessary to increase or decrease this amount based on your specific needs. Most brands also offer probiotics that are specially formulated and recommended dosage for children.
What about during antibiotics?
Taking probiotics during a course of antibiotics is a great way to restore and maintain a healthy gut flora but they should be taken at least 2 hours away from antibiotics and probiotic dosage may be increased while taking antibiotics. A practitioner can recommend the ideal amount for you. There are also certain strains that can survive the probiotics better than others such as L. Sporogenes. Probiotic supplementation is a way of preventing and addressing antibiotic-induced diarrhea, candida overgrowth and urinary tract infections.9
Take them with or without food?
This can depend on which probiotics you take. Generally, it is recommended to take probiotics with food to allow maximum absorption as food buffers the stomach and the pH levels allow carriage of the probiotics into the rest of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Some probiotics however, are recommended to take 15 mins before your meal. Generally, an empty stomach means a more acidic stomach and it’s likely fewer probiotics will survive.
These are essentially non-digestible carbohydrates that feed probiotics. They help probiotics grow and remain in your digestive system. The key prebiotic nutrients are Fructo-oligosaccarides (FOS), short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and inulin.
Best Food Sources:
Whole grains (such as oats)
These are all examples of inulin which is a type of Fructo-oligosaccarides (FOS). Preferably you would have any of the above listed prebiotic foods in their raw state to maintain most of the prebiotic fibre but in some cases you may prefer to have some lightly cooked.
You of course can also find prebiotics in supplement form so try to find the best way to incorporate them into your diet.
Having both prebiotics and probiotics in your diet can be a great way to support a healthy digestive system which can mean less of the following issues for you:
Remember, whenever you are looking to incorporate a new supplement to your diet, it’s always best to speak with your practitioner to ensure that supplement is right for you.
1. Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing: The A-to-Z Guide to Supplements. New York, NY: Avery, 2010. Print.
4 Haas, Elson M., and Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2006. Print.
6. Haas, Elson M., and Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2006. Print.
7. “Better Information. Better Health.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 01 May 2017.
8. Haas, Elson M., and Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2006. Print.
9. Murray, Michael T., and Joseph E. Pizzorno. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York: Atria, 2012. Print.