If the gut feeds and monitors our bodily functions, that’s reason enough to look at those supplements and foods that optimize our health by feeding our gut. Probiotics and prebiotics are a vital way to do just that. The USDA defines a probiotic as “a viable microbial dietary supplement that beneficially affects the host.”

With thousands of bodily functions influenced by gut bacteria, let’s look more closely to what’s really going on in the gut.

How It Works

Unfortunately, many think of bacteria as only a promoter of disease. In fact, bacteria can be bad — or good. We’re addressing the good bacteria and the ways we can optimize their functions. We have more than a 100 trillion bacteria that live in our gut!

Scientists working the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) are exploring the symbiotic relationship that exists between microbial cells and people. Microbial cells are minute life forms, a microbial form found in bacteria that cause disease. They are estimated to outrank human cells by a factor of 10 to 1. The HMP is assessing how microorganisms affect human immunity and health.

Bacteria exist on our skin, in our oral cavity, and in our gut. While we don’t know the comprehensive functioning of all the body’s bacteria and how they influence human development, more and more attention is being paid to that relationship. Fortunately, a lot of attention focuses on the role of gut bacteria. Thus, the attention has increased on the why’s and how’s of probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics and Prebiotics: Healing at the Gut Level

Perhaps some of you have heard of prebiotics — they are not to be confused with probiotics.

Probiotics are a beneficial kind of bacteria commonly found in yogurt, certain beverages, as well as supplements. They help feed and propel the more than 100 trillion bacteria — roughly three pounds worth — that line the intestinal tract.

Prebiotics help increase the number of probiotics to assist in gut health. They are not digestible compounds but are simply enhancers of probiotics that augment the growth of these beneficial bacteria. Eat prebiotic-rich foods. Prebiotic-rich foods are non-digestible, meaning they are not broken down in your stomach or absorbed in your digestive tract. Prebiotics are fermented by bacteria in your gut and, thus, promote the growth of probiotics.

The whole interplay of bacteria and bodily functions is complicated, and
many gastroenterologists recommend probiotics to help improve a variety of gut conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease. Probiotics also play a role in the treatment and prevention of vaginal and urinary infections, as well as allergies in children.

Furthermore, probiotics help with bowel movements, the absorption of nutrients, digestion, detoxification, and in re-establishing the balance of beneficial bacteria. All chronic diseases — cancer, diabetes, heart disease — can be improved by the addition of probiotics since they boost immune defenses which can then fight inflammation.

Remember: 70% to 80% of our immune cells live in the intestinal tract. Thus, probiotics are powerful ammunition in the fight of hepatitis C, hepatitis B, the human papillomavirus (HPV), and Helicobacter pylori, the four major diseases linked to cancer.

The Right Foods to Feed Our Gut

Good Probiotic Foods

The following is a list of healthy probiotic foods:

• Unflavored plain yogurt
• Sauerkraut
• Miso
• Kefir
• Pickles
• Tempeh
• Kimchi
• Kombucha tea

Good Prebiotic Food

• Jicama (yacon), Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root
• Dandelion greens
• Allium vegetables such as garlic, onions, chives, leeks, scallions
• Whole-grain and sprouted-grain breads
• Wheat germ, whole wheat berries
• Avocado
• Peas, soybeans (e.g., edamame, chickpeas)
• Potato skins
• Apple cider vinegar (organic)

Supplements Also Help

There are many types of probiotics, but bifidobacteria are commonly discussed. Bifidobacteria supplements are often taken in Japan to promote colonic health. They are also added to dietary supplements and foods like yogurt to provide additional health benefits such as strengthening immunity and preventing inflammation — critical to chronic diseases like cancer where keeping cancer cells dormant is the key to long life.

Bifidobacteria provide anti-inflammatory effects by producing a cell surface-associated exopolysaccharides (EPS) that offers protection in the gut against environmental factors.

There are many kinds of probiotic supplements available. If you’re new to taking them, ask for guidance from the retailer who stocks them. You’ll find some that include prebiotics, and reading the label will help you there.

To learn more about prebiotics and probiotics, please check out my newest book, The Gene Therapy Plan, already a best seller on Amazon.

Photo credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena
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