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What Are Prebiotics?

August 26, 2015

The Jerusalem artichoke is one example of a prebiotic-rich food

We’ve all heard of antibiotics. Most people know only of the antibiotics that are prescribed by doctors to fight bacterial infections.

Most of us have heard of probiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria and yeasts that help with digestion and keep the gut healthy.  By maintaining this good bacteria our immune system functions better.

Yogurt is the most popular source of probiotics. However, once dairy has been pasteurized, it kills the live and active cultures. To receive all the benefits of probiotics in dairy, it must be consumed raw, which is nearly impossible in the United States.

Better food sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh and pickles. Just make sure you read the labels. If the product has vinegar in it, it is no longer probiotic-rich. The vinegar acts as a stabilizer to extend shelf life and kills the bacteria. Live, probiotic-rich foods will be found in the refrigerated section.

Lastly, you can find probiotic supplements in the vitamin section of your grocery store. Typically, these are not high quality and have only one strain of bacteria. These are not ideal because we have hundreds, if not thousands, of different strains of bacteria in our intestines. Probiotic supplements can also be prescribed to add to breast milk or counteract the negative effects of antibiotics, such as diarrhea.

While many people have heard of antibiotics and probiotics, not many have heard of prebiotics. Let me explain what prebiotics are and what they do.

Prebiotics are carbohydrates and dietary fibers that stimulate the growth and maintenance of beneficial intestinal microbiota. They are non-living organisms that serve as food for probiotics, which are living organisms. You may already eat many prebiotic-rich foods and you just didn’t realize the benefits these foods provide.  A few examples are onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichokes. Bananas and whole grains also contain prebiotics, but not as much per serving.

Does the human body need prebiotics? The short answer is “no.”  You won’t die from a lack of prebiotics. But very few people have a perfectly balanced mix of good and bad bacteria in their gut. The prevalence of unhealthy, processed foods and high stress levels often lead to elevated levels of bad bacteria in the intestinal tract. This has been linked to gas, bloating, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, muscle pain and fatigue.

Interestingly enough, the only food that contains both prebiotics and probiotics is breast milk. Because breast milk is the only food specifically and naturally designed for human consumption, one could argue that prebiotics should be part of the human diet.

There are also supplements on the market that do include both probiotics and prebiotics. Side effects of probiotic or prebiotic supplements are extremely rare when the supplements are developed by a reputable company and prescribed by a doctor. If you take prebiotics as a supplement rather than through food, they’ve been found to be more effective when combined with probiotics.

Although more research is needed, recent scientific studies suggest that prebiotics aid in healthy digestion, reduce the severity of the flu or a cold, and can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. When we consume prebiotics, we feed the probiotics – the good bacteria that help us restore balance in the gut. The combined benefits of prebiotics and probiotics include preventing infections, regulating immune system function, helping to regulate appetite and bowel mobility, and enhancing nutrient utilization.

Of course, the best way to ensure proper levels of prebiotics is by eating fresh vegetables, especially leafy greens like kale, chard, and spinach, and any other vegetable that contains soluble fiber. If you’d like to find out if you could benefit by taking a prebiotic or probiotic supplement, please schedule an appointment at Natural Healthcare Center.

Dr. Proodian

Dr. James Proodian is an accomplished chiropractic physician, health educator, and professional public speaker who founded Proodian Healthcare Family of Companies to help people feel better, function better, and live longer. His expertise is in identifying clinical imbalances and restoring the body to health and functionality. Contact: jproodian@naturalhc.com or (732) 222‑2219.