Product Focus - The power of prebiotics
Probiotics or live bacteria, also known as ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria, have become a household term, with many people aware of their benefits. You also probably know you can take supplements and eat foods rich in these bacteria to top-up the colonies of microorganisms already living in your digestive tract. But what if there was another way to help the growth and flourishing of the bacteria in your gut?
Enter prebiotics, which are available in foods or supplement form. In a nutshell, what prebiotics do is ‘feed’ your gut microbiota, the collective bacteria and other beneficial organisms living in your intestines (most notably in your large colon). Having this source of energy helps your gut microbiota to thrive – in fact, some experts refer to prebiotics as ‘microbiome fertilisers’ (i). While probiotics and prebiotics have similar-sounding names, they play different roles, but ultimately aim to support a happy, healthy digestive system.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are dietary plant-based fibers such as whole grains, onions, garlic and bananas, that feed the bacteria in the gut. They allow healthy bacteria to populate and thrive so create a stronger, healthier microbiome.
Prebiotics vs Probiotics
While probiotics are live bacteria, prebiotics are components of carbohydrate foods such as the fibres mentioned above, and sugars, as well as some other substances that aren’t technically carbohydrates but are classed as having prebiotic properties. All of these substances are non-digestible compounds, which means your body struggles to digest them.
Being non-digestible means prebiotics are resistant to stomach acid, so they reach the colon – where they’re needed – intact. Once in the colon prebiotics are fermented and broken down into fuel by your gut bacteria, which helps your gut bacteria grow and work more effectively.
What foods contain prebiotics?
There are several different groups and types of prebiotics found in a range of foods. Here, we will look at the two most important ones since they have the most relevance to human health:
Types of FOS include soluble fibres such as inulin, fructans, oligofructose and oligofructans. There are small amounts found in foods including chicory, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, wheat, barley, leeks, soya beans, Jerusalem artichokes, agave and dandelion greens. FOS is also available in supplements including powders that can be sprinkled on foods and even used as a sweetener thanks to its naturally sweet taste.
Types include lactose, raffinose, stachyose, arabinogalactan and guar gum. Foods containing GOS include beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, some root vegetables and dairy foods.
Prebiotics are found in low qualities in natural foods, so can be challenging to consume enough of them through diet alone - taking a supplement can be easier and a more convenient option.
If you already take a live bacteria supplement, taking a prebiotic formula at the same time may make your probiotic even more effective. Similarly, if you’re thinking about taking a prebiotic supplement, consider a probiotic too if you want to make the most of their combined health effects.
Why should you take prebiotics?
• To help maintain a healthy gut
• Support digestive transit
• The gut is linked via the gut-brain axis so may support the central nervous system
• The gut hosts 70-80% of the body’s immune cells - a healthy gut supports the immune system
Incorporating more prebiotic foods to your diet or taking a prebiotics/probiotic supplement may initially cause excess wind or bloating. However, as your digestive system gets used to the new regime, the side effects should disappear.
Learn more about gut health, probiotics and prebiotics by clicking here.