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  • Writer's pictureKim Smolders

The Essentials: Probiotics & Prebiotics.

The microbiome has been a hot topic the last few years. It is a crucial part of, and contributor to our health, one that has largely been misunderstood, and thus largely ignored. Thankfully it is now getting the attention it deserves, and the knowledge gained about it is healing a lot of people.

Your gut microbiome is located in the gut and is made up of millions of microbes - bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. It is unique to each individual and is determined partly at birth, by your mother's microbiome, and partly by your diet, lifestyle choices and environmental factors.

The gut microbiome lines your entire digestive system, mostly in your intestines and colon, and affects everything from your metabolism to your mood to your immune system. This microbiome is made up of both good bacteria, which are symbiotic to the body, and bad bacteria, which are pathogenic - the good keep us healthy and fight off infections and inflammation, the bad make us prone to pain, illness, disease, autoimmune diseases and suboptimal health and wellbeing. In a healthy body, these bacteria are diverse and plentiful, and coexist happily. An imbalance in these bacteria due to stress, illness, poor diet, medication and other toxins, can lead to the bad bacteria dominating.

It is thus vital that this delicate balance in our gut is maintained through the right environment, diet and lifestyle choices.

Probiotics vs Prebiotics.

Probiotics are living strains of good bacteria found naturally in foods (or supplements) that improve and/or resture the population of good bacteria in the digestive system. These bacteria help your body to stay healthy and function well and are essential to your wellbeing. They are found in sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, miso and pickled vegetables. If you wish to populate your microbiome naturally, without supplements that is, then it is key you have these foods daily. Avoid sugar and processed foods and limit the use of antibiotics, both of which will destroy both good and bad bacteria. Make sure you exercise a couple of times a week as this has proven to increase the variety of bacteria in your gut, and manage your stress levels as stress can cause imbalances in your microbiome.

It has been shown that having a diverse microbiome with plenty of different kinds of microbes is the best way to ensure better health and minimise risk of disease.

Prebiotics are the specialised non-digestible plant fibers that feed and stimulate the growth of the beneficial bacteria in your gut. They make sure that the good bacteria flourish and outnumber the bad, keeping your body in its optimal healthy state. They aid digestion, enhance the production and absorption of vitamins and minerals, and regulate the immune system. They also reduce LDL cholesterol, control weight and appetite, contribute to a better hormonal balance and lower inflammation and stress response.

Dietary fiber in these prebiotics is broken down and fermented by the enzymes released. by the microbiome, making short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These SCFA are used by the body for a range of health-enhancing processes such as stimulating immune cell activity, maintaining normal blood glucose levels and regulating cholesterol.

Great prebiotics to eat plenty of include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, seaweed, apples, bananas, berries, chicory, dandelion greens, Jicama root, flaxseeds, Jerusalem artichoke, beans and legumes. Please do note that individuals with sensitive digestive systems should introduce these foods gradually so as not to overwhelm the gut too quickly.

The microbiome is a living, dynamic internal garden where an abundance of microbiota reside and fluctuate daily, weekly and monthly depending on your diet, stress, exercise, medication and other lifestyle and environmental exposures. Be sure to look after it by making conscious, healthy decisions on a daily basis!


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