Prebiotics or probiotics…

I am sure you all have heard, read and/or used probiotics at some point during your life.  Basically, probiotics refer to the good bacteria that resides inside your GI-tract (your gut).  Did you know that there are over 100 trillion good bacteria, 1000+ species and between 7000 – 9000 strains of these species, inside of you?  Indeed, that is something to think about!

Where does the word probiotics come from?  In Latin “Pro” means “for” and “biotic” means “life” or “bios.”  Probiotics are live microscopic organisms that reside in the GI-tract (gut) and are “pro-life.”

These good bacteria are essential as it helps the body to not only absorb the necessary nutrients from the food we eat, but it also aids in improving the immune function and supports the integrity of the intestines’ wall.  

Prebiotics refer to the non-digestible carbohydrates that trigger the growth of the good bacteria in the gut.  An example is soluble fibre inulin (found in wheat, bananas, garlic, onion, asparagus and artichokes).

Let us quickly talk about the gut.  It consists of the small and large intestine.  This is the part where energy is extracted from food, where nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) and water are absorbed, and where waste is removed (through the colon and ultimately the rectum). 

So now the big question is:  do you take probiotics or not?!  According to Doctor Mikhail (Mike) Varshavski, the average, healthy person does not need to take a supplement.  However, there are times when it is needed:

  • If you are taking / has taken antibiotics;
  • Have traveller’s diarrhoea;
  • Have antibiotic-associated diarrhoea;
  • Have ulcerative colitis or leaky gut-syndrome;
  • If a child has NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis);
  • If you are on the Pill;
  • If you are taking pain-medication;
  • If you are taking anti-inflammatory medication;
  • If you are suffering from food poisoning;
  • If you are suffering from yeast infections and/or problem skin;
  • If you are depressed or moody;
  • If you have food cravings.

From the above we can see that most of the time, when the equilibrium (balance inside the gut) has been changed, destroyed or disturbed, our body reacts in a negative way (because its natural state of balance has been disrupted). For example, if you suffer from depression or moodiness, there is a very good chance that there is trouble in the gut.  Why?  Because probiotics can increase serotonin production (the “happy” hormone that is a neurotransmitter) and 90% of it is actually made in our digestive system!    No wonder the gut is called the “second brain” by so many!  Studies have found that there is a definite connection between the gut and the mind, which influences your appetite, your emotions and your mood!  Communication between these parts of our body takes place via the brain-gut-axis and signals flow in both directions.  There is a network of neurons distributed in the gut’s wall, known as the enteric nervous system and these nerves are more than that in your spinal column!  No wonder your stomach “ties into a knot” when you are nervous or stressed and many people stop eating as well!

So, how do you keep the balance between the good and the bad bacteria in your gut?

By choosing foods rich in probiotics and making healthy choices.  For example, yoghurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk, kefir, aged cheeses, miso, tempeh, lassi, fermented foods like sauerkraut, and pickled foods, are all rich in probiotics.

Minimize and/or stay clear of refined carbohydrates (white pasta, white bread, etc), sugars (even artificial sweeteners), overuse and/or inappropriate use of antibiotics, get a good night’s sleep and get rid of stress, especially chronic or prolonged stress.  Learn to meditate, do exercises (yoga, walking, swimming, anything that will take your mind off your worries) and breathe!

Lastly; speak to your health practitioner before you start taking a supplement.  There are so many different varieties and brands to choose from that it can be overwhelming.  Look at the dates, how to store it and the CFU’s (5 billion or more is a good number), and try to use enteric-coated probiotics.

I want to end of with a quick story that I heard many years ago.  The body’s organs were arguing over who is the most important.  The lungs said “we were” for breathing; the brain said it was, because it tells the organs how and when to work, and so forth.  When the stomach said it was, all the other organs laughed…. until it started shutting down and the body started to get headaches, got thirsty, moody, depressed, constipated, bloated, and so on!

Our bodies function as a unit and no organ is more or less important than the other.  As with the prebiotics and probiotics, there must be an internal mutualism and balance in our whole body in order to survive and function optimally.

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