If you ever read an article about gut health or do an internet search on gut health or gut related issues, more than likely you will come across reference to prebiotics and probiotics. Your friends might be talking about the probiotics they are taking and how amazing they are, making you think should I be taking them too?
Before we learn more about prebiotics and probiotics it is worth understanding a bit about the gut and gut bacteria.
The gut comprises of the organs in the body that are responsible for digestion of food. These organs include the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine. When we talk about gut bacteria, it is the large intestine that is of particular interest. There are approximately 10 trillion microbes in our body and these microbes consist of bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses.
So what are prebiotics and probiotics?
Prebiotics are types of carbohydrate that only our gut bacteria can feed upon and are found naturally in particular foods such as leeks, onions, bananas and asparagus.. Eating prebiotic containing foods are passed through the digestive system and into the large bowel where they are fermented by the good bacteria, probiotics.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. They are found in different formats such as yoghurts, capsules and powders. Probiotics are classified depending on their strain as the effects are strain specific.
What about fermented foods?
Some foods that are fermented in the gut are a natural source of probiotics. Examples of fermented foods are Sauerkraut, Kimchi and Kefir.
Are pre and probiotics useful for certain medical conditions?
There has been lots of research done on the use of probiotics in healthy people and also those people with certain medical conditions. This area of research is continuing to grow as we learn more about our gut and the bacteria present in our guts.
Not all probiotics work in the same way depending on the type and number of bacteria present in the probiotic you are taking therefore not all probiotics will help with all symptoms or conditions.
How do I decide what probiotic to take?
Depending on your reason for wanting to take a probiotic will determine which probiotic supplement to try. One size does not fit all as each probiotic supplement contains different strains and our existing gut bacteria profile is unique to each of us just like our fingerprints are all different.
When choosing a probiotic it is important to consider the following:
- what health benefits are associated with the strain present in the product
- the product contains level of probiotics needed for the intended health benefit
- that it is safe for you take. Pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems should discuss with a healthcare professional before commencing a probiotic.
For example, individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), guidelines advise trying probiotics for a minimum of 4 weeks while monitoring the effects. Not all individuals with IBS will benefit from taking probiotics.
If you have an underlying gut health condition and feel you would benefit from dietitian input, please contact me here to enquire about my private online consultations.
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.