Prebiotics have numerous health benefits such as improving gut health, inhibiting cancer, enhancing the immune system, and preventing obesity and have shown effective improvements in 91 percent of all human trials. They have also been shown to reduce symptoms of bowel related issues such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.
Both prebiotics and probiotics nurture the good bacteria required by the digestive tract for proper health beginning at the mouth. Probiotics are live, active cultures capable of multiplying in numbers whereas prebiotics serve as the food source for probiotics and do not grow or reproduce.
What is a prebiotic?
According to regulation standards, prebiotics are made up of nondigestable carbohydrates (fiber) that are used by bacteria in the colon to produce measurable health benefits. Naturally found in food, a prebiotic is not broken down or absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract. Beneficial bacteria use this fiber as a food source in a process called fermentation.
Food sources of prebiotics
Prebiotics are considered functional foods in that they provide numerous health benefits and aid in the prevention and treatment of diseases and health conditions. Currently, there are only two major types of prebiotics well documented: Inulin and oligosaccharides. Examples of food sources that contain prebiotics are:
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
- Jerusalem artichoke
Inulin and oligosaccharides are short-chain polysaccharides, or chains of carbs, which act at different locations in the colon ensuring complete intestinal health. By increasing and maintaining the populations of good bacteria, the body is less susceptible to pathogenic bacteria that can lead to a diverse range of negative health consequences.
Prebiotics improve digestion
Symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) can be mistaken for a type of inflammatory bowel disease except that IBS does not cause the chronic inflammatory condition of the gut as might celiac disease. Prebiotic supplementation has been shown to improve the gut microbiome so significantly that symptoms and worsening conditions are less likely.
Prebiotics are a beneficial supplement for everyone because they combat both diarrhea and constipation, prevent IBS and IBD, increase absorption of nutrients such as calcium, and aid the detoxification of intestinal cells. Some research even suggests that prebiotics may have roles similar to antioxidants by neutralizing carcinogens while some varieties specifically compete with pathogens.
Prebiotics prevent cancers
Prebiotics help to prevent against cancer cell formation by improving digestion and the environment of the gut microflora. Additionally, they reduce the colon pH and increase the production of the short chain fatty acid butyrate.
Reduces colon pH:
The two most well understood friendly bacteria that colonize the human body are bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. These two types of microbiota produce lactic acid which protects the colon by decreasing pH. A lower pH in the colon reduces colon cancer risk by inhibiting pro-cancer enzymes. Lactic acid bacteria also produce short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate.
Butyrate is one of the best food sources for friendly bacteria as well as for cells that line the intestine. Increases in butyrate have been linked to cellular suicide of cancer cells known as apoptosis, and increased concentration of normal cells. Butyrate is also shown to correlate with increases of the antioxidant, glutathione, in colon cells.
Dr. David Jockers
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