• Caroline O'Hagan

Prebiotics, Probiotics and why we need them.

They may have started, seemingly as a health fad or buzz word but the truth is, Probiotics are a really big deal. Does everyone need them? Most people do. Why? Because unless you are eating a very clean diet and consuming plenty of pre and probiotic foods in your normal diet, your gut microbiota will not be in optimum shape. If you have had antibiotics, thrush, bouts of digestive issues, or suffer from general ill health, your gut is probably in need of some assistance. Good health begins in the gut, and Probiotics play a huge part in restoring good health to your digestive system.

An unhealthy gut flora and digestive system can be responsible for a whole host of conditions. IBS and digestive complaints are obvious, but your immunity and ability to fight infection, bad bacteria, viruses and more can be compromised, which you may not realise are connected to your digestive system. Constipation, lactose intolerance, vaginal candiasis (thrush) and intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can all be improved with the right treatment and the right probiotics.

Before you begin a course of probiotics, it may be necessary to prime the environment inside your gut with Prebiotic foods.

Artichoke are prebiotic as they are undigestible fibre when eaten raw

Prebiotics are different to probiotics. They help to prepare your digestive system, gut flora, microbiota, whatever you want to refer to it as, and provide a healthier environment for the Probiotics that you will be putting in there, to thrive, grow and live. Bitter herbs like dandelion & chicory, artichoke, onions, garlic, apples, asparagus, bananas, oats, legumes such as chick peas, lentils and kidney beans, peaches, nectarines, watermelon, cashews and pistachios are all undigestible fibres, and consuming them raw (fruit and veg at least) is the most effective way to reap their benefits. To maintain a great digestive system, you need 5 grams of prebiotic fibre each day, but 25-30grams of fibre daily overall. This article by Monash University gives even more insight into what Prebiotic foods are, and how they work.

What damages healthy gut flora?
Not surprisingly, Alcohol, Cigarettes, stress, poor sleep, a poor diet and excessive processed and sugary foods are destructive to the gut flora, and of course Antibiotics. It is strongly recommended, even by many doctors, that a course of probiotics is important alongside or immediately after taking anti-biotics.

Probiotics don't live forever once they have set up camp in your digestive tract - they are constantly fighting with the other things you consume, and various bodily processes that may damage them, so if you are supplementing with Probiotics, its important to remember that if you stop taking them, their benefits will cease within a few weeks.

Eating natural yoghurt, sweetened with fruit and honey is great for you, but can't be relied on as a source of Probiotics

There are some foods which have probiotic properties, although some that have been names as probiotic in the past, such as sauerkraut and kefir, are now referred to as "sources of live and active cultures" but not probiotics.

Probiotic yoghurt with a significant (no less than 10^8CFU) amount of live probiotic culture in it, can be used as a therapeutic product, but studies have shown that an encapsulated formula is the best way for live probiotic bacteria to be delivered to the gut microbiota, and generally the most cost effective. ((You would need to eat a lot of Probiotic Yoghurt each day to achieve enough active bacteria, and this can become costly!).

Not all probiotic strains are created equal

There are many different strains, with new ones being identified each year. Studies are showing the most appropriate strains to use for specific conditions, and finding which ones are the right strains for you and your personal health is not an easy task. A qualified Naturopath or Nutritionist can help you to identify which products are the most appropriate to improve your health.

Probiotics have been successfully used in the treatment of Endometriosis, Eczema, Anxiety and Depression, Kidney Stones, NAFLD, and more. If you suffer from regular bouts of vaginal thrush or UTIs, probiotics are a very effective treatment when used in conjunction with other natural medicines. Essentially, most people need probiotics. They should never replace a fibrous diet or a healthy one, and they certainly don't mean that you should be taking anti-biotics all the time because you are offsetting them with probiotics, but they are certainly a powerful healer both prophylactically and to fix you up once you have been unwell!

Pregnant or a new breastfeeding mum? Probiotics are super important to maintain a healthy vaginal microbiota, and to ensure that healthy bacteria are being passed to baby through your breastmilk. If you can deliver naturally and breastfeed, you are giving your baby its first two doses of bacteria. A healthy vagina, and healthy breast milk will set baby up to have good digestion, and a thriving gut microbiota, even before they begin to eat real foods!

A clean diet full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, healthy fats such as avocado, coconut oil and other natural pressed oils, oily fresh fish, lean meats and a moderate amount of dairy, is ideal for everyone. Think your diet could be better but don't know where to start?

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