Take a Gut Check with Your Probiotics and Prebiotics
Last week I saw a patient, Paul, who came to see me for a number of different conditions, including eczema, prediabetes, depression, and anxiety. Both his Nutritional Response Testing(tm) and his stool test results indicated that he needed more beneficial gut bacteria. He replied:
“I don’t understand how that’s possible! I’ve been taking probiotics for years.”
I understand his frustration and confusion, but first, not all probiotics are created equal. Second, new studies are revealing that taking probiotics may not be the best way to increase your levels of healthy gut bacteria. While probiotics have numerous benefits, they don’t quantitatively increase the amount of beneficial microbes in your gut over the long term. If probiotics don’t do this, what does?
When we eat protein, carbohydrates, and fats, enzymes in our gut break down these larger molecules into smaller molecules that we can absorb. But that doesn’t happen with fiber. Instead, it passes through our stomach and small intestine completely intact before entering the colon, where it becomes “food” for the beneficial microorganisms that live there.
And unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 15 years, you have at least heard a little about how critical gut microbes are to your overall health. Unlike taking probiotics, recent studies have shown that eating enough fiber (40-50g per day) does increase the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut. (Fiber is also referred to as a “prebiotic,” which is defined as a nutrient that is not digestible by humans but that increases the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.)
So, if you have low levels of beneficial bacteria, don’t forget to include fiber (prebiotics) in your strategy, along with probiotics. They support each other: the probiotics are the beneficial bacteria themselves, and the prebiotics are the food these bacteria need to thrive.
I hope this helps clear things up for anyone who, like Paul, has been confused about the different roles of probiotics and fiber/prebiotics in supporting a healthy microbiome.
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