Our American obsession with cleanliness may actually be harming our gut health than serving us good. Let’s review the research on how this is true.
All living creatures need bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms to exist on this earth. We are dependent on communities of microbes that the medical world calls microbiomes. How do they work? They break down undigested food, make vitamins, secrete neurotransmitters that allow nerve cells to communicate with one another, prime and protect our immune system and equip us to fight off invading bugs.
From our entry into this world we collect our first microbes from the birth canal from our mothers. Those born caesarean collect their microbes from the hands of the doctors, nurses and parents who hold them. As we develop and grow we collect additional microbes from the world that we live. Crawling on the floor, touching our pets, and tactile interaction with the remainder of our world all add to the collection of microbes. By the age of four our microbial store house is full.
Protecting these precious microbes is vital to our overall well-being. Antibiotics will destroy and deplete our storehouse of microbes. Conversely, eating a diet rich in fiber foods is beneficial to our gut microbiome. As we age it is important to protecting our microbial supply. Fewer microbes “families” are found in the gut as we age so eating a diet loaded with fruits, vegetable and whole grains is essential to overall gut health.
Prebiotic and probiotics plan an important role in maintaining good gut health. Prebiotics are components of non-digestible fibers found naturally in plant-based foods. Probiotics are live, active microorganism with intended health benefits to the GI tract. They assist in decomposing, fermenting and digesting our food. To provide these benefits, probiotics from food must contain live active bacterial cultures. These live cultures can be found in certain yogurt, kefir and fermented foods. Kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage, unpasteurized sauerkraut and soybean products including miso and tempeh are rich in probiotics. Products with yeast and wine are also rich sources.
Prebiotics and Probiotics work in tandem to ensure good gut health. In summary, prebiotics stimulate or help activate bacteria growth, while probiotics are the live cultures or bacteria themselves. When consumed together prebiotics and probiotics work synergistically to keep our gut healthy. This team will support your immune system by preventing the growth of bad bacteria and aiding in their elimination. As we begin cold and flu season, be mindful of these health benefits and make dietary choices that will protect your health throughout the season and the remainder of your life.