When we’re talking about gut health, there are two things you need to know about:
Pre- and probiotics work synergistically together to create a healthy gut ecosystem, and understanding what roles they play, and how they feed into each other, can help you take better care of your gut!
The gut is an ecosystem
The cells lining our gut act as the ground upon which beneficial microbes grow and move around on. Just like the root systems of trees and plants help to stabilise soil and prevent erosion, these beneficial microbes look after the gut lining and keep it healthy and strong. For example, gut microbes produce short chain fatty acids such as butyrate that act as fuel for our gut cells. They’re also really important for the health of all of our organs, thanks to channels of communication such as the gut-brain and gut-lung axes.
Probiotics protect our micro-environment
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle is contributing to the gut-equivalent of deforestation. The overuse of antibiotics and even stress is reducing the biodiversity and abundance of beneficial microbes living in our gut.
Probiotics are a useful tool to counteract the effects of deforestation in our gut. Probiotics supplement our gut with living beneficial microbes and help to preserve and replenish the microorganisms native to our gut. You can now even select specific probiotic strains to have specific effects on your health, depending on your health goals.
But what keeps these living organisms alive inside of us? Prebiotics!
Enrich your gut environment with prebiotics
Prebiotics, which are fibres and colourful polyphenol antioxidants found in plant foods, are like fertilisers which feed beneficial microbes in our gut and help them to grow, which includes probiotic bacteria too.
Prebiotics can’t be digested by our body, and their only job is to act as food for the beneficial microbes living in our gut. They digest these prebiotics via fermentation, allowing them to survive and thrive. Interestingly, the act of fermentation creates byproducts which are great for our health too- such as short chain fatty acids.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship where everybody wins.
Gut microbes have dietary requirements too!
Probiotics and beneficial microbes have their own unique diets, and all rely on a different variety of prebiotic fibres and polyphenols to feed them. This is because there are many different plant fibres which act as prebiotics, such as inulin, guar gum, and so many more.
Inulin is a staple in the diet of many microorganisms, and can help to boost populations of beneficial Bifidobacterium for example. Inulin is found in foods such as asparagus and artichokes. Other foods which are important sources of other prebiotic fibres and polyphenols include chickpeas and lentils, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cacao powder, green tea, and more!
This is why it’s so important to eat a wide range of multi-coloured, whole plant foods every week - they all help to enrich your gut ecosystem and create a diverse, thriving community of beneficial microbes which take care of your health.