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Health and Fitness News

Feed Your Microflora

Should you take a prebiotic supplement or are you getting enough in your diet?

In recent years, probiotics have been in the spotlight for their role in health and wellness. As a result, you can find many foods that are fortified with probiotics. But what about prebiotics? While you may have never heard of them and research is ongoing into the extent of their benefits, initial research shows exciting promise about prebiotics’ important place in your good health.

What are prebiotics? What’s the difference between them and probiotics? What foods contain each and are you getting enough? You’re about to find out.

Understanding Your Microflora

Trillions of bacteria make their home in your gut. Known as your microflora, microbiota, or microbiome, these are a mixture of good and bad bacteria. Between 300 to 500 different types of bacteria line your digestive tract, most making their home in your intestines and colon. While there are a limited number of bacteria, each person has their own individual microbiome makeup depending on genetic makeup, diet, and health condition.

What is the purpose of all this bacteria? Research is currently figuring that out. What is known is that this microflora plays important roles in digestion, mood regulation, immune health, and disease prevention. Your microbiome may link you to an increased or decreased risk of obesity, depression, anxiety, autism, diabetes, and colon cancer.

Prebiotic Vs. Probiotic

Certain foods and supplements known as probiotics contain live microorganisms that help to grow the good bacteria in your gut. Natural probiotics are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, pickles, buttermilk, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, miso, and kombucha.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are foods and supplements that feed your gut bacteria to improve their balance, stimulate their activity, and increase their numbers. They’re found in plant fibers your body can’t digest but your gut bacteria can. Prebiotics are found in whole grains, leafy greens, onions, garlic, bananas, berries, artichokes, asparagus, oats, barley, legumes, tomatoes, wheat, and soybeans. Some foods including cereal, bread, baby formula, and yogurt are fortified with prebiotics.

Benefits of Prebiotics

Besides feeding your gut bacteria, prebiotics help manage your blood sugar by preventing spikes. They also help your body absorb calcium from food, improve digestion, reduce your risk of allergies, improve immune health, and help prevent constipation. It is even suspected that they play a role in relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, treating inflammatory arthritis, and aiding in weight management.

Should You Take a Supplement?

The best way to get prebiotics is by eating a healthy diet that includes a variety of whole foods high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In fact, if you’re in good health, you shouldn’t need a prebiotic supplement if you’re getting the recommended 25 to 38 grams of fiber each day.

That said, studies show no risk in taking a prebiotic supplement or in taking both a prebiotic and probiotic supplement together. Despite this, it is best to talk with your doctor before taking new supplements, especially if you have a chronic health condition or weak immune system.

Side Effects

Probiotics and prebiotic supplements aren’t regulated by government standards, and manufacturers aren’t required to follow safety measures. Therefore, it’s best to not depend on them to treat health conditions.

Since prebiotic supplements are high in fiber, taking too much too soon can cause gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation, or loose stool. To avoid these uncomfortable symptoms, gradually add prebiotics to your diet or cut your dose in half in the beginning so your gut bacteria can slowly adjust to them.