Niagara Gazette

Features

October 23, 2013

NATURAL HEALTH: Understanding prebiotics and probiotics

Niagara Gazette — Although I consider them essential for health, there is quite a bit of confusion on the topic of probiotics and prebiotics and on this, I’d like to shed some light. 

First understand that “pro” means “for” and “biotic” means “life,” therefore, probiotic means “for life.” Probiotics are the healthy bacteria whose functions include assisting with digestion, keeping other harmful bacteria at bay and stimulating the immune system.  A healthy gut is essential for a healthy immune system. Eighty percent of your immune system relies on this. 

Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotic growth and stimulation. Prebiotics are considered functional foods, so called because they provide health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition. Although they are also available in supplement form, prebiotics occur naturally in a number of common foods with high fiber content. This, in my opinion, is the best way to get them. 

The two most common subtypes of prebiotics are inulin and fructooligosaccharides. These pass through the small intestine without being fully digested or absorbed, making them an excellent source of food that stimulate growth of the protective bacteria in your colon. Prebiotics and probiotics work hand-in-hand to promote and protect your health. 

Prebiotic foods include asparagus, burdock, chicory, dandelion root, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, onions, whole grains, legumes and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radish and rutabaga. For people who regularly eat these foods, prebiotic supplementation should not be necessary.

Stomach upset, fatigue, dairy sensitivities and frequent colds and flu are some of the signs that your friendly bacteria need to be replenished. Antibiotics — which means “against life” — kill not only the bad bacteria, they also kill the friendly bacteria that we need for health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, even if we haven’t take prescription antibiotics, we are still regularly exposed to them.

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