Gut Speak, Week 2
Prebiotics - Gut and Immunity
While strolling through the grocery store, you may notice food packages touting the presence of prebiotics. What is a prebiotic? What makes a prebiotic different than a probiotic? Prebiotics are fibers and natural sugars, like FructoOligoSaccharides (FOS), that provide the food for the good bacteria, or probiotic bacteria, in the gut to ferment, thereby causing them to thrive and multiply. Prebiotics basically help probiotic bacteria survive and thrive within your personal gut flora colony.
Since prebiotics stimulate the growth of healthful strains of the beneficial bacteria in the gut, they are also key to improving gut health. More research is necessary to uncover all the health benefits of prebiotics, but they are certainly a valuable dietary component for health. Examples of these foods include asparagus, almonds, artichokes, savoy cabbage, chicory (inulin powder is often sourced from chicory), garlic, shallots, onions, leeks and legumes (like kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas), to name a few.
When the gut is healthy, an individual tends to stay healthier, as well. Approximately 70% of your immune system’s function resides in the gut, so keeping the gut strong and healthy is of utmost importance. Your immune system is your number one protection from cancer. Your immune system recognizes cancer cells and wipes them out. Excessive alcohol intake suppresses your immune health and can upset the gut microbiome, wiping out the good bacteria, thereby increasing cancer risk.
Probiotics, prebiotics and collagen have all been recognized as having the ability to improve gut health. Bone broth is a good source of collagen, and collagen is necessary for maintaining gut membrane integrity and for membrane repair. When you have a virus, like a cold, the gut membrane can become more permeable. Part of the theory as to why Granny touts a good chicken soup for colds and flu is based on the fact that granny cooked the bones of her chicken for her stock. Bone broth is high in collagen and collagen boosts gut integrity, thereby increasing the function of your immune system to fight off the invaders. Vitamin C and its antioxidant activity and Omega 3 fatty acids are also important for maintaining good gut membrane health.
Note* Some individuals who struggle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome or other gut disorders, may not tolerate high doses of prebiotics. For example, some with IBS symptoms may actually be suffering from SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). SIBO happens when some of the useful, beneficial gut bacteria that belong lower in the gut (specifically in the colon) travel higher upstream into the small intestine where they don’t belong. In these individuals, prebiotics provide high grade fuel for the displaced bacteria causing them to ferment the FOS. This results in severe bloating, gas, cramping and extreme pain in the upper gut soon after eating.
For this reason, many individuals with IBS choose to follow the FODMAP diet protocol which actually pulls out FOS containing foods. If you experience extreme gut pain with high prebiotic foods, know you are not alone. You may wish to limit your intake of prebiotic foods and you may wish to talk with your doctor about a test to determine if you have SIBO.