Probiotic Vs. Prebiotic Vs. POSTbiotics!
But curds? How can I drop curds, where will I get my probiotics from?
I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard this question during consultation.
Supplemental industry is constantly advertising us to take more and more probiotics. But do we really know what they are and why do some of us continue to have gut issues like idb (irritable bowl disorder) even if we eat enough of them? Let's explore.
What are probiotics?
“Almost all our health concerns can be traced back to our belly. Ensure a healthy gut and the rest will take care of itself.”- Behzad Azargoshasb
39 trillion microorganisms (mostly bacteria) call your gut their home. They even compose 99% of your DNA! From a broad perspective, what you might call as being a 'genetic disorder', might just be your microorganisms. The good news is that the way you eat can actually change the population of your microbiomes dramatically.
So the way we eat clearly has a big impact on our health and metabolic diseases. A simple example is the difference between consuming plant- based proteins such as lentils and beans VS consuming animal based proteins such as meat and dairy. Consuming more plant- based proteins increases the population of bacteria that helps suppress inflammation. This helps relieve symptoms of an irritable gut.
On the contrary, consuming more animal based protein sources increases the population of inflammatory bacteria. Inflammation is the leading culprit with it comes to almost any metabolic conditions including diabetes, PCOS, arthritis etc.
Probiotics are nothing but living bacteria that seem to have a positive impact on our gut health. Think of them as microbes that have beneficial qualities essential for our physical health.
What are the benefits of probiotics?
If all our health concerns can be traced back to our gut, then the most obvious benefit of adding probiotics to our diet would be a boost in immunity ofcourse.
Checkout this study tagged below where participants asked to take probiotics through a 12- week follow experienced fewer sick days and fewer colds per year.
Let's not stop reading here though, we still need to understand what are PRE- biotics and if they are better than probiotics.
Does the gut also have an impact on our emotional health?
Indeed it does. Long before anti- psychotics were invented, doctors actually realised that mental illness originated due to the increase in the population of the bad bacteria in our gut. Colectomy (a surgical procedure that removes the colen) was practiced often on people struggling with mental illnesses. Granted this procedure killed one in three people, but when patience did not die, symptoms of mental illness seemed to improve.
It was not long after that a safer approach of introducing probiotics to change the gut flora to treat symptoms of depression was bought to policy and seemed to work. This treatment was however used in conjunction with following a strictly vegetarian diet so it's not the probiotics alone that may have worked.
We now have a huge body of evidence pointing to the fact that maintaining a healthy gut is essential not only for our physical health, but also emotional and mental health.
So is taking a probiotic supplement the solution though?
What are PRE- biotics and POST- biotics?
Now here is where it get's really interesting. We give too much importance to probiotics, not considering prebiotics or postbiotics. What do these terms mean?
Prebiotics are essentially the food which our gut microbes (probiotics) eat and in turn produce postbiotics. Think of the postbiotics as the 'poop' produced by the gut after eating the prebiotics.
"Prebiotics+ Probiotics= Postbiotics"- Dr. Will Bulsiewicz
Is this postbiotic 'poop' important? It is the most important thing to a human body and we will discuss this in a bit.
Which is better- prebiotics or probiotics?
Checkout this article which talks about the advantages of prebiotics and how they indeed might be better for our gut than probiotics.
Unless you have just come off a long antibiotic treatment which required you to take a lot of medications, you already have enough probiotic bacteria in your gut. What you actually need is a good prebiotic source to help the probiotic bacteria thrive and grow.
Where can I find PRE- biotics and do I need them?
Prebiotics are only found in plant's. So to ensure that the probiotic bacteria (good bacteria) continue to flourish, you will have to consume enough prebiotics. Though eating a variety of plant's will ensure you get your supply of prebiotics, the two plant groups with the highest amount of prebiotics are soluble fiber and resistance starch. Rice, oats, banana, spinach, legumes, grains, potatoes and most fruits are excellent sources of prebiotics.
But why go through the trouble of eating prebiotics? Why not just pop a pill or drink a shot of probiotics? Firstly, the efficacy of probiotic supplements is not well known. Watch this to know more:
Besides that, nutrition cannot have a unidirectional view but needs to be holistic. You need specific nutrients to boost the absorption of others and cannot take one individual vitamin pill. Probiotics need prebiotics to produce the postbiotics. There is no point taking in a probiotic, but doing nothing to utilise them or grow their population. A prebiotic like fibre not only boosts the growth of probiotics to produce postbiotics, but also diversify's the species in our gut. This is essential to boost immunity and metabolism.
Let's explore POST- biotics.
The good bacteria in our gut (probiotics) takes up the fibre we eat and transforms them into the most magical postbiotic Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA's).
There are three essential types of SCFA's namely acetate, propionate and butyrate. Now you do not need to remember them, but just know that all the different sources of fibre you consume will have them in different proportions. All are very essential to human health. This is why consuming a variety of fibre and starch sources is important VS villanising some over eating some.
How do these postbiotic SCFA's help us?
- Firstly the SCFA's protect us by directly changing the pH of the colan and making it selectively acidic. This in turn kills the bad inflammatory bacteria and also dangerous food pathogens like salmonella. Without the SCFA's, you would have constant food poisoning.
- Secondly one of the SCFA butyrate acts as food for the cells lining the colon. This improves colon health and as a by product improves symptoms of gas, bloating and fatigue. Besides this, SCFA's also repair a leaky gut and heals idb/ ibs (irritable bowl syndrome).
- SCFA's have been proven to be protective against cancer by eliminating carcinogenic cells from the body. The effects of SCFA's on auto- immune diseases and other inflammatory diseases are also correlated.
- SCFA's also boost glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, helping with fat loss. Just looking at fat loss as calories in VS calories out is very reductionist. instead work on making your body a high power machine where calories are only stores as temporary stores and not fat cells by improving glucose tolerance.
- SCFA's also directly target the fat cells and activate a receptor that slows the uptake of fat cells and reduces fat accumulation in the first place. They also boost the production of satiety hormone, signalling you to stop eating more than required. This is extremely essential in people trying to lose weight but have no portion control.
I could go on and on, but essentially, for all the above (and many more) benefits to work in your favour, you must consume the prebiotic fibre.
Fibre not only acts multiplying the probiotics in the body, but also works at boosting the availability of SCFA's in the body.
So how much prebiotics should I consume?
Since prebiotics are found largely in soluble fibre and resistance starch, you want to aim to consume a huge chunk of your daily calories from the below options;
You want to aim for atleast 50- 70 grams of fiber per day. I do not suggest you start googling the fiber content in foods now, but just aim to get the following food groups in per day:
- 3 cups of fruits per day.
- 5 cups of vegetables per day (cooked and uncooked).
- 2- 3 cups of lentils/ beans per day.
- 1-2 cups of grains per day.
- Handful of nuts/ seeds per day.
Try and start your meal with a salad? Maybe add a soup before dinner. Even an oats and banana cookie as a snack will do.
A simple breakfast for a day could start with a multigrain bread sandwich following by a spinach and banana smoothie.
This will take care of your PRE-biotic needs which in turn will fuel your probiotics for the postbiotic SCFA's.
Do I still need a prebiotic supplement? Which one?
While it is best to consult your doctor or nutritionist before taking a supplement, the two prebiotic soluble fiber supplements I would suggest you include would be:
- Wheat Dextrin
These not only improve your gut health, but also slow down digestion and boost the absorption of minerals and vitamins in the body.
It is however best to work with an expert before you start any supplements or make drastic changes to your current eating pattern.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you would like to get your own customised meal plan designed, click here.
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