Prebiotics, Probiotics and the G.I. Tract
Intestinal Micro Flora and Diet
Our digestive system is very complex and delicate in its balance of micro flora. It is essentially an ecosystem in and of itself. The gastro intestinal tract is home to more than 400 strains of different micro-organisms including mold, yeast and fungus and over 100 trillion bacteria. These micro-organisms feed off of the food they have access to in our digestive system. Different micro-organisms thrive on different foods. Certain foods sustain the bad flora while healthier foods increase the populations of good flora. The many strains of micro-organisms living in the colon are a direct result of the types of foods we consume.
Lifestyle, diet, age, stress level, exercise and antibiotic use all have an impact on the balance of our intestinal micro flora. Poor dietary choices such as a diet high in sugars, trans fats and saturated fats and processed foods can have a negative impact, as can high levels of stress and low levels of exercise. The use of antibiotics, especially long term use, is another serious factor in poor GI tract and immune system health.
Often, eating habits such as not varying the types of foods eaten along with poor food choices can cause certain strains to thrive and spread. However, there are food choices that increase the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the GI tract. This is one way that we are able to either culture the “good” bacteria and flourish in health or culture the “bad” bacteria and suffer the consequences of our choices.
Poor Food Choices for Cultivating Good Health
- Baked Goods (source of sugar, yeast)
- Cheese (source of yeast/mold)
- Mushrooms (source of fungus)
- Alcohol (source of sugar and yeast)
The ingredients used in foods listed above have been shown to feed the “bad” micro-organisms. This is one factor that can create an imbalance (dysbiosis) in the ratio of healthy to unhealthy micro-organisms. Some strains of micro-organisms release toxic gaseous by-products that can enter the bloodstream. This causes a variety of symptoms and illnesses ranging from allergic reactions to eczema and more. Candida ( a type of yeast/fungi) is one of these micro-organisms that can escape the GI tract to the bloodstream and become systemic.
In achieving and maintaining a healthy balance of micro flora, it is important for 80% of the flora to consist of healthy “probiotics”. Probiotics help favorably alter the intestinal microbial balance, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, promote good digestion, boost immune function and increase the body’s resistance to infection and illness.
As previously mentioned, antibiotics kill indiscriminately both the bad and the good biotics, and probiotics help to replenish the healthy ones the body needs. In addition to killing off the good biotics, many times antibiotics are proven ineffective against the bad biotics they target. This may be a result of the defenses allowed to the pathogens that hide in internal biofilms. These biofilms shield the pathogens from the effects of the medication and allow a tolerance/resistance to these antibiotics to be built up by the pathogens. This is a factor in the new onslaught of “superbugs” (highly antibiotic resistant bacteria).
Periodic cleanses and fasts, along with high fiber content in the foods we choose are some of the ways that good bowel health is achieved. See these posts for suggestions Colon Cleanses and Fasting. There are detox treatments that specifically target some of these issues of biofilm and GI tract pathogens such as the Candida Albicans Detox.
Many of us have heard of and have an understanding of probiotics. However, prebiotics are not as widely known in their role in GI tract health. Prebiotics help to establish a healthy growth of probiotics in the gastro-intestinal system. They serve as a food source for the “good” bacteria that make up probiotics. Probiotic bacteria taken together with prebiotics that support their growth are called “synbiotics.” Both work together in a synergistic way more efficiently promoting the probiotics’ benefits.
There are many sources of Prebiotics available to us. Prebiotics are soluble fiber that does not break down in the stomach or intestines, it promotes fermentation by GI micro flora and it promotes the growth of the micro flora in the GI tract. The high fiber content also assures that the “sweeping” action of the fiber passing through the gut helps to maintain a healthy “clean” GI tract. It is recommended to consume a minimum intake of 25 – 30 grams per day.
Sources of Prebiotics
- Brown Rice
- Steel Cut Oats
- Legumes ( peas, lentils and beans)
Probiotic micro flora can be found in both supplement form and as components of foods and beverages. There are many strains of micro flora that are recognized as being beneficial for digestion, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, by breaking down vitamins and also fermenting fibers and carbohydrates that are not digested in the upper GI tract, keeping the intestinal walls healthy by improving its barrier function. They also affect immune response and inhibit growth of harmful bacteria.
Sources of Probiotics
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
- Kimchi (Korean spicy cabbage)
- Tempeh (fermented soy product, use ORGANIC ONLY)
- Kefir and Yogurt (brands made with goat milk that contain lactobacillus or acidophilus. Goats milk also contains thermophillus, bifidus, bulgaricus)
- Fermented Dairy Products (if no allergy or intolerance exists, products such as yogurt and kefir)
- Microalgae such as Spirulina, Chlorella, and Blue-Green Algae
- Kombucha Tea and the newly available Fermented Vegetable/Fruit Drinks (high in good bacteria but not recommended for those with Candida)
- Pickles/Fermented Vegetables (high in probiotics, fermenting is one of the three tenents of Raw Food diets, along with uncooked and sprouted)
- Probiotic Supplements (good supplements have billions of microflora and have multi-strains)
- Rejuvelac (fermented grain or cabbage drink)
Diet and the GI Tract
In addition to increasing one’s uptake of prebiotics and probiotics and avoiding poor choices of devastating foods, we all must adopt healthy diets and active lifestyles. There are many different diets that seem to suit different body types. I am not advocating for others an extreme Vegan or Raw Food Diet, though personally I feel that a a diet that is 75% to 80% raw food and vegetarian in nature accompanied by a diet that has no more than 10% animal protein intake (the other 10% can be nuts, grains, beans etc for Vegan/Vegetarian diets) is ideal for our bodies. More than 10% animal protein appears to increase the risk of disease. I am now a “Flexitarian”. I love my juicer and raw foods. I love superfoods. I eat the occasional piece of wild fish or free-range grass-fed buffalo. I love organic. I love food.
Five Ways to Restore a Healthy Microflora Balance
- Eat Healthy Foods A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Include non-digestible fibers or prebiotic fibers such as whole grains, onions, bananas, garlic, leeks and legumes.
- Avoid Antibiotics Limit use of antibiotics. This will keep the good biotics flourishing in the GI tract. If antibiotics can not be avoided, supplement your diet with probiotics, eat foods rich in probiotics. Supplementation is a must following a course of antibiotics.
- Reduce Stress There are many ways to reduce stress. Adopting new habits/hobbies or altering your lifestyle to reduce stress will have a positive effect on your micro flora balance. Laughter is good medicine, smiling instantly lifts one’s spirits. Take up activities that alleviate stress. Relieving Stress.
- Exercise Moving the body is a great method to keep one in good health, for many different reasons. Our immune systems especially benefit from exercise that gets the blood flowing. Walking, swimming, biking, yoga and the list goes on. Try to get at least twenty minutes of natural sunlight daily.
- Consume Probiotics Daily Whether through supplements or through a variety of healthy foods. Explore the creative arts of fermenting foods. Making yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables or kombucha tea is much easier than most people assume and is so good for the GI tract. Digestive enzymes are also easy to make at home and will ensure a healthy probiotic balance in the body. Enzymes & Skin (recipe for digestive enzymes)
Better Food Choices for Cultivating Good Health
There are several more personal food choices that can lead to good or bad health. These factors must be addressed as well as learning to avoid the compromised foods previously mentioned.
- Organic & Non Genetically Modified Food Eat organic (avoid pesticides) and limit exposure to preservatives. Avoid genetically modified foods and dairy products that contain growth hormone. This post examines organic food and it’s health benefit.
- Raw vs Cooked Diets Preparing foods above 120 degrees Farenheit kills the live enzymes and destroys amino acids, the basic building blocks of life. Here we examine the benefits of a raw diet over cooked food.
- Alkaline vs Acidic pH Change to a diet that contains more alkalizing food as disease flourishes when more acid forming foods are eaten. This post examines ways to alkalize one’s diet.
- Apple Cider Vinegar Drinks Apple cider vinegar is probably the best (and cheapest) detoxifier for the body. Organic raw Apple Cider Vinegar can be used as a daily drink to change the body’s ph from acidic to alkaline. This post has a few recipes for your health.
- Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Much of our vitamin and mineral intake should be from raw organic foods. This is a difficult task and a healthy body may benefit from these additional supplements. Some recommended supplements.
- Sweeteners Avoid high sugar intake (including fruit), which can feed intestinal yeast. Natural sweeteners like Stevia, VeggieSweet & Xylitol can be used.
- Seaweeds & Seaplants These plants can be ten to twenty times more nutritious than land vegetables and are a source of calcium, B complex, D, E and K vitamins as well as iodine and magnesium.
- Spices & Herbs Fresh grown or fresh bought organic herbs are irreplaceable in not only their flavor but in their inherent medicinal and nutritional value too.
- Juicing & Wheatgrass Juicing is an easy and convenient way to add nutrition to one’s diet. It is also a fun way to play with food and taste. Wheatgrass is a living food. Being highly anti-bacterial, consuming wheatgrass will help to alkalize and detoxify the lymph and blood cells.
- Basics for Diet and Nutrition The second half of this posts offers many suggestions on foods, herbs and supplements. It includes some information about water and why it is important to filter or to have a clean source of water today. Finally, it touches on the chelating effect of leafy greens and other natural foods that detoxify our bodies.
Good Health to us all