Gut Health In Four Words
The words prebiotics, probiotics and gut microbiome have been big buzz words in the health space for the better part of the last decade, and for good reason. More and more research is being conducted into what impacts your gut flora or the components inside your gut, and how this in turn affects your overall health.
Put simply – the key thing we have learnt is: Health begins in the gut!
Having a healthy gut not only affects our digestion, but also our metabolism, immune system, obesity, chances of arthritis and even allergies.
The concept of probiotics and prebiotics is widely known, but new to the scene is the term postbiotics. We are still learning the full extent of how these and added digestive enzymes can play a bigger role in promotion good gut health in combination with pre- and probiotics.
So lets start from the beginning…
Probiotics are living microorganisms or bacteria that exist in your intestines and help digestion. We have trillions of live bacteria within our body at any time – most of which lives in our gut, both good and bad bacteria. The more diverse and prolific this good bacteria is, the better it is for our health. More research is showing that having higher levels of good bacteria in the gut is not just healthy for your digestive system, but also have flow on effects that influence your metabolism, help your immune system, is liked with lower rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes and even help with allergies.
Poor diet, stress, lack of sleep and antibiotics can affect and reduce the number of healthy gut flora or good bacteria. Probiotics help to restore the balance by allowing the good bacteria to thrive and reduce the number of harmful bacteria.
You may have heard of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria before. These are strains of good bacterial. They are found naturally in foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and miso. You can also get probiotics by taking a supplement.
Some health benefits of probiotic intake include:
- - Boosting your immune system
- - Reducing some symptoms of irritable bowl syndrome including bloating, gas, diarrhoea and constipation
- - Treating diarrhoea following antibiotic use
- - Improves lactose intolerance
- - And possibly reduces the risk of colon cancer
Now we come to prebiotics. They don’t affect digestion or gut function to the great extent that probiotics do, but are still highly important. They are the food for the probiotics therefore also help enhance the good gut bacteria. Prebiotics are indigestible fibres from the foods we eat that pass through the body to the large intestines. Here they ferment and produce short-chain fatty acids and also act as a fuel source nurturing the production of natural probiotics.
Prebiotics are found in many foods including onion, garlic, asparagus, fennel, legumes, barley, oats and some fruits.
More research has been conducted on probiotics than prebiotics, but studies have shown that a diet rich in prebiotics are helpful for:
- - Treating constipation
- - Reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis by increasing calcium absorption, therefore possibly increasing bone density
- - And reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes by reducing insulin resistance
This is a new term and new area of research adding to the promotion of good gut bacteria. Postbiotics refer to the metabolic byproducts of the fermentation process that occurs when prebiotics feed probiotics in the gut. Postbiotics also appear to have beneficial digestive effects!
Probiotics themselves actually excrete certain compounds into our digestive system including enzymes, peptides and short-chain fatty acids that are thought to help regulate the composition of our gut microbiome.
Acetic acid a short-chain fatty acid found in vinegar has been linked with the regulation of blood sugars and boosting metabolism. This is also a postbiotic, or byproduct of bacterial metabolism. Butyric acid is another and help to promote colon health.
We have a very long way to go in completely understanding how our gut flora influences our health and visa versa, though postbiotics seems to be a good addition to the picture. Though instead of trying to understand the use of the trillions of bacteria in the gut, it could be simpler to measure the presence of postbiotics instead. So far postbiotics appear to have anti-inflammatory, immunity, anti-obesogenic, antihypertensive and antioxidant properties, not withstanding their gut health benefits. Thus postbiotics could contribute to our overall health in many ways!
The focus now from a research standpoint is investigating how prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics affect gut microbiota and trying to fine key markers that can lead to the diagnosing and treatment of various chronic health problems.
So where do digestive enzymes fit into the picture? Probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics all work together in the gut to keep the system healthy, but digestive enzymes have their own stand-alone role. They actually break down the food we eat. Once food enters our mouth, stomach and small intestines, it needs to b broken down so we can harness the energy including protein, carbohydrates and fat, and vitamins and minerals from the food to give our body energy as allow it to grow and repair itself.
The mouth, stomach and small intestines make some digestive enzymes, but the majority care produced by your pancreas, which then floods they small intestines with them, and most of food breakdown occurs here.
Key enzymes needed for digestions are:
- - Amylases which breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars
- - Lipases which break down fat into fatty acids and glycerol molecules and
- - Proteases, which break down protein into amino acids and peptides.
In its healthy state, the pancreas is very good and making and secreting the necessary enzymes in the correct amounts every time we eat, but if pancreatic function is compromised you may lack sufficient enzymes which could leave to digestive discomfort as food is not being broken down properly.
While most are created within our body, some foods are naturally high in digestive enzymes, these include pineapple, papaya, mangoes, honey, bananas, avocado, Kefir, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut to name a few. Look similar to some of the foods mentioned further above?
If you noticed a pattern that the above enzymes end in ASE and it got you thinking about lactose and lactase you are on the right path! Lactase, maltase and sucrase are enzymes made in the small intestine. If your body can not make enough of one of these enzymes your digestive system can not break down that food adequately, hence people with lactose intolerance feel pain and bloating when they consume lactose. Either acid such foods that require the particular digestive enzyme, or try find a produce containing that enzyme and consume it before eating your problem food.
Hopefully this helps explain how probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics and digestive enzymes can help improve your gut health and digestive function.