Are you confused by the flood of information about your gut bacteria? You are not alone. Let’s take a look at the research so far and some sensible recommendations that we can follow long-term to increase our levels of beneficial gut bacteria.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
You will hear the terms prebiotic and probiotic bandied about. A prebiotic is the food that feeds particular beneficial gut bacteria in the large intestine and maintains/increases their activity. For a molecule to be called prebiotic it has to survive digestion and get to the large intestine where the majority of gut bacteria reside. In addition to the natural sources it is also possible to extract the prebiotic molecules and add them to a range of products such as yoghurts, cereals and beverages. You may have seen the some of these prebiotic ingredients on food labels e.g. inulin. Be wary of claims made on food containers as these have been found to overstate the research in terms of potential benefits the prebiotic on gut bacteria.
Probiotics are live organisms and in the bacterial class of these there are a number of organisms that appear to be beneficial health. Improving digestion, protecting against disease and enhancing the immune function role are methods by which health is improved. The particular foods that contain probiotics that cause these results are some fermented foods and they have also have been isolated and can be used as dietary supplements.
Optomising Gut Bacteria
Optimising our gut bacteria populations is thought to be a way we can positively influence health. The aim is to have low numbers of less beneficial or harmful/pathogenic bacteria and a higher level of the most beneficial bacteria such as strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Our individual gut bacteria profile is unique so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Including a range of fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut and fetta cheese in your diet will help to build up and manage our populations in a positive way. A high fibre diet is the key to maintaining these populations and the research also suggests highly processed foods (high fat/salt/sugar), alcohol and artificial sweeteners will negatively impact the populations. Some people take probiotic supplements, if you choose to do this use one type of supplement for a month and then try another as the beneficial bacteria you get that way will be different.
If you have the digestive symptom of bloating then it is not the time to use a probiotic supplement as the symptom suggests there is a lot of bacterial action already in your large bowel and adding extra bacteria will worsen this situation.