How to Maximize Your Microbiome
Bacteria are Essential to Good Gut Health
The 2017 annual symposium run by University Medical Center Groningen brought up new findings on the role of the gut microbiome in health and disease and how these important bacteria seem to influence bowel function and metabolism, anxiety, mood and brain function. Research has revealed an association between conditions like irritable bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even depression with Dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of 'good' to 'bad' bacteria in the gut. A diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics can restore this balance and provide an effective treatment component for IBS and constipation, as well as improve overall health.
What's the Difference Between Prebiotics & Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria in cultured yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and other fermented foods. Prebiotics are fermentable fibres that feed and grow beneficial bacteria in our gut, passing through the intestinal tract without being digested or absorbed. Fructo-oligosaccarides, or fructans, found in foods like asparagus, bananas, garlic, onions, and whole grains are one example. Another kind, galacto-oligosaccardes, are found in fermented dairy products along with probiotics.
Prebiotic inulins and other inulin-like fructans can influence the composition of our gut microbiota. In a cross-over study, healthy volunteers consuming supplemental inulin showed significant increases in three beneficial bacterial species compared to those not consuming inulin, although the sample size was small. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study of 30 women with obesity, consuming a prebiotic supplement of inulin and oligofructose was linked to subtle changes in gut microbiota and small improvements in fat mass and metabolism. In another double-blind randomized cross-over study of 42 healthy adults with mild constipation, inulins increased 'good' gut bacteria while reducing Bilophila - a 'bad' type of bacteria - which seems to improve quality of life for sufferers of constipation. Several more studies, including a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials with 252 participants, showed benefits of prebiotics for bowel function and regularity in those with chronic constipation.
The Influence on Weight
Prebiotics may significantly decrease appetite and potentially energy intake, as shown in a meta-analysis of 26 randomized controlled trials with 831 healthy adults. Those eating an oligofructose-enriched inulin diet reported increased satiety (fullness) compared to those consuming a placebo. Interestingly, higher concentrations of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and peptide YY - both important satiety hormones produced following a meal - were found in blood samples of participants. This could explain participants' self-reported feelings of satiety when consuming prebiotics. This finding was consistent in children with overweight and obesity, and older children 11 to 12 years old had a significant reduction in energy intake as well.
Give Your Microbiome a Boost
Including probiotics and prebiotics in whole foods (such as those mentioned above) is a great way to boost healthy gut bacteria, and these foods tend to be high in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Try whole grains like barley, rye and spelt and include 7-8 servings of vegetables in your daily meals. Chicory root and dandelion root are also good sources of prebiotics. You may choose to take a supplement with probiotics or prebiotics, although this is certainly not necessary. Talk to your doctor and dietitian about this option if you are interested, and keep in mind not all supplements are effective.
1. Mohajeri, M. H., Brummer, R. J., Rastall, R. A., Weersma, R. K., Harmsen, H. J., Faas, M., & Eggersdorfer, M. (2018). The role of the microbiome for human health: From basic science to clinical applications. European Journal of Nutrition, 57(S1), 1-14. doi:10.1007/s00394-018-1703-4
2. Prebiotics. (2018, January 11). Retrieved from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Digestion/Prebiotics.aspx