What are prebiotics?
Prebiotic are components of our diet which help support the growth of the good bacteria in our gut. They can do this in a number of ways.
Firstly, prebiotics can include non-digestible components of our diet which act as food for the bacteria in our gut. Like any living organisms, they need food to survive! They ferment these foods, continue to grow and survive, and in turn, produce beneficial by-products such as short-chain fatty acids.
Some examples of this type of prebiotic include inulin or FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides). These are commonly found in a variety of wholefoods including fruit and vegetables such as bananas, onions, garlic, chicory, asparagus and leeks, and grains including wheat and barley.
Next, we have substances that help support the internal environment of the gut, which in turn, increase the survival rates of these bacteria. Our Molkosan is an example of this. Made from fermented whey it is rich in L+ lactic acid which helps support the pH of the gut. I like to think of it as the oxygen the bacteria need to survive. Although these bacteria are anaerobic (they don’t literally need oxygen like us humans to survive), they need to live in an environment that supports them.
So, by either supporting the internal environment or by providing a source of food, prebiotics help support the survival of bacteria in your gut.
What are probiotics?
Now, probiotics are the bacteria themselves. Throughout our digestive system we have trillions of bacteria, and these can be broadly split into good and bad types. Surprisingly we need both – but the key is getting them in the correct balance. You see, the good bacteria are very important for helping to keep the bad bacteria in check. Without sufficient levels, the bad bacteria can become established and we get an unhealthy balance which we call dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is thought to have a part to play in a number of disorders of the gut including IBS and can give rise to a number of symptoms from bloating to constipation.
So, by taking probiotics we are attempting to up the numbers of the good bacteria themselves, which in many cases can be successful.
However, could we be doing more?
Synbiotics are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics and preliminary research suggests that this could be a useful combination.1
And of course this makes perfect sense and is line with the advice we already give. If our gut environment isn’t supporting our good gut bacteria in the first place, then is it really advantageous to just add some more bacteria in? The chances are they won’t survive for very long either. Perhaps instead it makes more sense to really nourish the gut first, create a supportive environment and then top up our bacteria numbers.
What should my approach be going forward?
So, what’s likely to be the best approach? Here’s my guide for supporting your gut the best way possible:
- Managing your diet. First step, let’s get your diet sorted. Include lots of fresh foods which will include naturally occurring prebiotics, and then avoid processed, pro-inflammatory foods such as refined sugar, caffeine or alcohol. Then, don’t forget to consider any trigger foods that may also be exacerbating your symptoms. My advice is to start a food diary so you can keep an eye on how you respond to some of the common culprits such as gluten, dairy or FODMAPs.
- Prebiotics. We now know that prebiotics can help support the gut environment to help maintain the friendly bacteria already existing there, plus any extra that we put in. You can be more conscious of including foods rich in prebiotics such as fresh fruits and vegetables but adding some Molkosan to your daily diet may also be helpful. Add two teaspoonfuls to a glass of water and enjoy!
Best of luck!
1. Pandey KR, Naik SR and Vakil BV. Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics – a review. Journal of food science and technology, 2015, 52(12), (7577-7587).