Prebiotics and Gut Health

The effectiveness of probiotics for a variety of health concerns, including good gut health, overall well being and generally keeping your immune system happy, has long been recognised. Now, new research has confirmed what traditional medicine has always known - that prebiotics are essential for ensuring the effectiveness of probiotics and, when combined, the two are a force to be reckoned with.

Working together with probiotics, which produce vital beneficial intestinal bacteria, prebiotics play a vital role in ensuring the diversity and healthy balance of good bacteria – lactobacilli and bifidobacteria -  in the gut. Whether they come from supplements or a dietary source, prebiotics work by moving through the stomach without being broken down and so become nutrient sources, in essence ‘food’, for the beneficial bacteria that colonise the gut. The benefits of a combined pre and probiotic intake are many and have so far been shown to include positive outcomes for the following:

  • reduction of inflammation and autoimmune reactions
  • less risk for cardiovascular disease
  • better gut health
  • improved digestion
  • weight gain and obesity
  • stress
  • hormonal balance
  • better immune function
  • lower cholesterol levels

I’ll talk a bit more about prebiotic supplements in a moment, but first, I’d like to take a look at prebiotic foods. What we’re interested in here are foods which are able to pass through the upper gut without being digested, instead remaining intact until they reach the colon where the gut microflora can ferment them and feed the good bacteria. Below is a rundown of the top prebiotic rich foods. In most cases, the advice is to eat them raw, which may seem a bit daunting, but finely shredded raw leeks and dandelion leaves are great in salads and cooked onions are the basis of many a meal so most of us are probably already eating more prebiotic foods than we realise.

  • Raw Jerusalem artichoke
  • Raw dandelion greens
  • Raw garlic
  • Raw leeks
  • Raw and cooked onions
  • Raw asparagus
  • Raw banana

The general rule of thumb is to eat at least 5 grams of prebiotic fibre a day and to consume these alongside fermented probiotic food sources such as kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. But if this feels difficult to achieve then there are some fantastic supplements out there. I’d like to focus in particular on two – Slippery Elm and Inulin – both of which we stock in our shop.

Historically, herbalists used Slippery Elm when treating a wide range of health issues. Whilst they may not have thought of Slippery Elm as a prebiotic, they knew that it healed the gut and that gut health was key to many health issues. Today, in my clinic, I use Slippery Elm to support management of inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, to ease IBS and, as a prebiotic, to assist the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. The lack of good gut bacteria can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome which, in turn, can trigger a whole host of health problems. I often work with patients to correct gut imbalances which, in turn, can down regulate inflammation and support whole body healing. If the gut microbiome is imbalanced, the absorption of nutrients from food and medicines is compromised. Our health is connected to our ability to absorb and the ability of our immune system to function correctly. We must always remember that our gut’s health is one of the keys to our immune health.

Raw chicory root comes in at the top of the list of prebiotic rich foods, packing an impressive prebiotic punch at 65% fibre by weight. You’re unlikely to find it in the supermarket but, luckily, you can get it in its ground form as the supplement, Inulin. The succulent plant, agave, is another great source of inulin, with its very low impact on blood sugar levels making it ideal for diabetics. We stock agave derived Golden Greens Organic Inulin Fibre in our shop as well as Jarrow Formulas Inulin FOS (FructoOligoSaccharides). A spoonful of inulin fibre in your morning smoothie will see your prebiotic intake shoot right up. Here’s a tasty prebiotic smoothie recipe courtesy of Golden Greens – your gut will love you for it!

¾ of a cup of almond or soya milk

1 pitted date

½ a banana, peeled

½ a mango, stoned and peeled

1 tsp organic inulinpowder