Why probiotics and prebiotics are vital to wellbeing
It seems that the gut microbiome is the wellness topic du jour – and rightly so. The more we learn, the clearer it becomes that good health begins in the gut.
Your body is made up of trillions of bacteria that live in and on you. The name of this complex and vast group of bacteria is the microbiota. Almost all microbiota live in your gastrointestinal tract. Like fingerprints, every person has their own unique microbiota and there are countless strains of bacteria that make up your microbiota. The microbiome is the genetic information contained in the microbiota.
PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS
Probiotic means ‘for life’ (‘pro’ means ‘for’ and ‘biotic’ means ‘relating to life’). Probiotics are the good bacteria that are one of the keys to overall wellness. They add good bacteria to your gut to outweigh the bad bacteria. Probiotics have a varied role in the digestive system and are able to assist with the manufacture of B vitamins, protect against external toxins, and improve the efficiency of the gastrointestinal tract. They also help to support the immune system and improve digestion and bowel function.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are indigestible fibre that serve as food for the probiotics in the gut, allowing them to thrive. Naturally prebiotic foods include artichokes, dandelion, garlic, onion, leek, corn, and cabbage.
THE CORNERSTONE OF GOOD HEALTH
Good health begins in the gut. The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is only partly true; ‘you are what you absorb’ would be a more accurate statement. You could eat the most nutritious diet possible, but if your gut microbiota is weak and can’t properly digest and absorb nutrients, it won’t do you much good. That’s why having good digestion is one of the keys to having great overall health, and why improving the function of your digestive system will help improve your wellbeing. Enzymes and nutrients that are important for vitality are also made and housed in the gut. Having a robust gut means that nutrients from food are better absorbed and used by the body. This leads to glowing skin, stronger hair and nails, and increased energy.
In addition to processing and digesting the nutrients from our food, and being responsible for effective elimination, the gut is integral to other vital body functions. It’s home to around 80 percent of the immune system. Think of the immune cells as lab technicians in white coats, interviewing suspects to see whether they are good or bad, and calling in reinforcements if any of the suspects need to be shown the door. Because the gut is an easy entry point for dangerous pathogens, your digestive system acts as a barrier between you and the outside world. This barrier has a diverse range of gut flora that helps protect against invaders. There is also an intestinal mucus layer that lines the gut, forming another barrier to keep invaders out of your body. Probiotics and prebiotics help to stimulate the production of this mucus layer.
The gut is also where many hormones and neurons are made and metabolised. Your gut is responsible for around 80 to 90 percent of the production of serotonin, the amazing feel-good hormone that we all love. This is why the gut is sometimes called ‘the second brain’. When the good gut bacteria are overtaken by the bad bacteria, serotonin production and other chemical reactions in your body are impeded.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The gut needs to be nurtured by probiotics, prebiotics, and nourishing foods to keep it functioning optimally. We need a regular intake of probiotics to help digest and absorb the nutrients from the food we eat, as well as to increase the number of good bacteria that are essential for good health. Prebiotics play an important role because they feed the probiotics. If you want excellent overall health, focus on good nutrition, the integrity of your gut, and moderate daily exercise, and the rest should follow.