There are more bacterial cells living in and on your body than actual human cells. Yes, even with all the washing and sanitising we do they still outnumber us. But we now know that we have a symbiotic relationship with them and they are absolutely essential for our health and survival. Only a very few species are actually pathogens that make us sick. The ones that are good for our health are termed probiotics.
Probiotics – what are they and why are they good for us?
There are an estimated 1-2 kg living bacteria in our gut. There are hundreds of different kinds and everyone’s gut bacteria, or microbiota, are unique. Everyone’s gut has different amounts and types of bacteria which is constantly changing due to illness, diet changes, lifestyle, and antibiotic treatment. Your microbiota fulfils so many essential functions in the body and not just digestion related – research keeps revealing more and more ways in which probiotics benefit our health.
Probiotics benefit digestive health by reducing the occurrence digestive disorders, including diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotics enhance the immune system and prevent the growth of bacteria and viruses that are harmful to us. Probiotics can even make certain vitamins, like vitamin K, and amino acids in your gut, which your body can then absorb and use. Certain probiotics have been found to reduce cholesterol levels and new studies show that probiotics may have a strong influence on our mental health.
Maintaining a healthy gut is critically important, and having diverse microbiota is a vital part of it. When the diversity and balance of your microbiota is out of sync, huge issues can arise with your health. As people become more aware of the myriad of benefits, the demand for probiotic foods is booming. The best sources of probiotics are fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut.
Prebiotics – fuel your probiotics
You need to fuel your microbiota with the right stuff. Prebiotics stimulate the growth and activity of the beneficial microbiota in your gut – in a good way. They are non-digestible food nutrients for us, so they pass through to the gut where they are able to be used by the bacteria. Because they increase the numbers of bacteria in the gut, they help us reap all the benefits listed above.
Prebiotics are found in fibre rich foods like fruits and vegetables. garlic, onions, soy beans, bananas are some foods reportedly with high concentrations of prebiotics.
This is a complex topic, especially as more and more research emerges in the field of prebiotics and probiotics. If you want to learn more The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics website is a great resource to check out.