"All disease begins in the gut" ~ Hippocrates
The discovery of the microbiome and the functions of all the microbes within our body has been equally as important as the discovery of the human genome. The microbiome protects us against germs, breaks down food to release energy, and produces vitamins. When it comes to supporting gut health, much of the emphasis has been placed on probiotics, the good bacteria known to have specific benefits on the digestive tract.
An imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in the digestive system can show up in a wide array of systemic conditions, including hormonal issues, metabolic dysfunction, depression, cognition, even some cancers. It is recommended we take probiotic supplements, eat yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and sourdough bread to flood the GI tract with good microbes. However, for these bugs to function optimally in our favor, they need to feed on substrates called prebiotics.
Think of prebiotics as fertilizer for our microbiome. They are what probiotics feed on; in fact, we cannot fully digest these dietary fibers without good bacteria. Prebiotics and probiotics live in symbiosis. We need good bacteria to utilize the fiber we get from food and we equally need prebiotics to maintain the balance of good and bad bacteria in the GI tract. Research has shown that in healthy individuals, the more prebiotic foods we eat, the more good bacteria can proliferate, including Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, L. reuteri, bifidobacteria, and certain strains of L. casei or the L. acidophilus-group.1
Most commonly we think of prebiotic foods to include onions, garlic, jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and plantains. But there are many more prebiotic foods to include and enjoy on a daily basis. Think polyphenols, the magical bioactive compounds found in a colorful, plant-rich diet. Polyphenols are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and olive oil. Prebiotics also include herbs, cacao, sea vegetables, green tea, raw honey, and colostrum.
The greatest health benefit from including more prebiotic foods is better digestion*. As the gut bacteria metabolizes these undigested fibers, they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which play a critical role in colon health. One of the SCFA's, butyric acid, protects the health of the intestinal lining. Others regulate electrolytes which are important for proper digestions, produce bowel movement, and prevent diarrhea.