Getting Good GUT Flora: The “Pres” and “Pros” of GI Bacteria
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team
We all hear a great deal about probiotics and their amazing gastrointestinal benefits, but what are the exact benefits and do probiotics need prebiotics to be effective? In honor of Irritable Bowel Syndrome Month, EALM will help you with the “pres” and “pros” of getting good gut flora.
There are prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible carbohydrates (insoluble fiber). They include “fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) such as inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).”1 They are “selectively fermented ingredients that allow specific changes in the gastrointestinal microflora that benefit the health of the host.”2 They are “good bacteria promoters” and “may even enhance calcium absorption” per registered dietitian Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, as reported on the eatright website. “Foods naturally with prebiotics include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods.”1 Foods such as yogurt, and specifically brands like Maia yogurt (a favorite of Ilisa Nussbaum, RDN, CDN at Yale-New Haven Hospital), are adding the good bacteria promoters allowing you to get both the prebiotic and probiotic in one serving. Foods or supplements with both prebiotics and probiotics are called synbiotics.2
Probiotics are “gut-dwelling bacteria that keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function.”3 Bacteria such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, L. reuteri, bifidobacteria and certain strains of L. casei or the L. acidophilus-group are used in probiotic food, particularly fermented milk products.2 Think kefir and yogurt.
These probiotics work on the prebiotics. So it’s suggested that one eat plain yogurt (which is fermented and contains live bacteria) with wheat berries and or bananas (foods that contain indigestible carbohydrates) or a yogurt containing prebiotics and probiotics (an easy option for those on the go). One of the best sources of probiotics is yogurt, of course, because it contains lactobacillus and or bifidobacteria. Other probiotic food sources include sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchi, fermented soft cheeses (like Gouda) and even sourdough bread. The common feature of all these foods is fermentation, a process that produces probiotics.4
The 7 Pros of Probiotics5
- Probiotic therapy, specifically with Lactobacillus GG, is well supported by research for treating diarrhea.3
- Prevention and/or reduction of duration and complaints of rotavirus-induced or antibiotic-associated diarrhea as well as alleviation of complaints due to lactose intolerance.4
2. Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Studies suggest that certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn’s disease.3
- Prevention and alleviation of unspecific and irregular complaints of the gastrointestinal tracts in healthy people.
3. Cancer Promoting Enzymes
- Reduction of the concentration of cancer-promoting enzymes and/or putrefactive (bacterial) metabolites in the gut.
- Beneficial effects on microbial aberrancies, inflammation and other complaints in connection with inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, Helicobacter pylori infection or bacterial overgrowth.
- Normalization of passing stool and stool consistency in subjects suffering from obstipation or an irritable colon.
- Prevention or alleviation of allergies and atopic diseases in infants.
7. Colds and Infections
- Prevention of respiratory tract infections (common cold, influenza) and other infectious diseases as well as treatment of urogenital infections.
Whether you are trying to prevent the common cold, or manage IBS, prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics are worthy of consideration. You are probably already eating these foods and don’t even know it. If you need assistance, eating yogurt daily would be a very easy way to make your gut happy.
Happy GUT Meals
- Whole-wheat pasta with artichokes, asparagus and olives.
- Sourdough pizza crust topped with Munster cheese, onions, garlic and, of course, tomato sauce.
- Salmon in a Greek yogurt sauce served with grilled asparagus.
Happy GUT Snacks
- Maia yogurt with wheat germ.
- Greek yogurt with bananas, figs and almonds.
- Sourdough bread with black bean spread.
Happy GUT Sides
- Kimchi with roasted soybeans.
- Sauerkraut with onions.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Prebiotics and Probiotics: The Dynamic Duo. 2013. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442477443. Accessed April 7, 2014.
- de Vrese, M, Schrezenmeir, J. Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics. Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol. 2008; 111:1-66.
- The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics. 2005. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0905c.shtml. Accessed April 7, 2014.
- WebMD. Probiotics and Prebiotics: Ask the Nutritionist. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrition-vitamins-11/probiotics. Accessed April 7, 2014.
- Peters, BA, Neet, KE. Regulatory properties of yeast hexokinase PII. Metal specificity, nucleotide specificity, and buffer effects. J Biol Chem. 1977;252(15):5345-9.