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Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

Your Gut and You

Jul 02, 2020 03:29PM ● By Emily Fritz
There are several gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), antibiotic-associated diarrhea and clostridium difficile infection, that can occur when the microorganisms in the small or large intestine are disrupted. They often are a result of poor gut health. We know that “gut health” is important for a healthy body, but do we know what “gut health” actually means? 

Gut health refers to the balance of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These microorganisms aid in contributing to a strong immune system, brain health and, of course, GI health. Therefore, it is important to maintain gut health to help prevent disorders of the body. So, how do we maintain gut health? Nutrition through prebiotics and probiotics are prominent sources for enhancing gut microbiota.

Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that stimulate the proliferation of certain gut bacteria. In other words, prebiotics provide the “food” for current bacteria in the GI tract to help strengthen the mucosal barrier and protect against GI-related diseases and other alterations to normal bodily function. Looking more closely, prebiotics occur as natural or synthetic sugars. When these sugars reach the GI tract, they are fermented by the gut microbiota to create short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids increase electrolyte and water absorption, decrease intraluminal pH, alter cell proliferation and differentiation (which can decrease the risk of colon cancer) and decrease intestinal inflammatory processes, as well as strengthen the immune system. Good sources of prebiotics include fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, Jerusalem artichokes, wheat bran, chicory and soybeans. 

On the other hand, probiotics are live bacteria that are added to the gut to increase the presence of bacteria. Probiotics technically consume prebiotics for fuel. Furthermore, probiotics are in a sense the opposite of antibiotics because rather than kill off bacteria, probiotics add to the microbiome to provide a strong protective layer that fights for our gut health. Thus, we need to make sure that we consume plenty of probiotics when we are taking antibiotics for long periods of time. While probiotics can be found in the supplemental form of capsules or powders, it is not entirely necessary to seek these sources out because probiotics are also found in everyday fermented food products such as yogurts that contain added lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains, kefir, kombucha (fermented tea), tempeh (fermented soybeans) and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).

Experts recommend starting with probiotics, microbiota-loving foods that will feed and strengthen our current gut bacteria. After all, our gut buddies do a pretty good job fighting off disease and maintaining a homeostatic environment for our comfort and quality of life. Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, is an expert on the gut microbiome and suggests starting out with some of these types of foods to help fortify and strengthen the existing bacteria:
• Fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
• Potatoes (boiled and cooled)
• Bananas (not too ripe)
• Jerusalem artichokes

Dr. Cresci explains that while it is ideal to obtain your prebiotics and probiotics from the diet, we may not get enough due to our busy lifestyles. If we need to take supplemental prebiotics and probiotics, she suggests choosing:
• Product that has a seal of approval from testing agencies such as Consumer Reports or Consumer Labs
• Probiotic capsules packaged with inulin or other prebiotics
• Probiotic in spore form, which can survive on the shelf or in the digestive tract

Let’s help our army of bacteria by feeding them the fuel they deserve!

Emily Fritz is a recent dietetic graduate of the University of Dayton and has recently been accepted into Augusta University to pursue her M.S. in dietetics. Emily truly believes that food is medicine and is working towards becoming a registered dietitian to pursue her passion in health promotion and disease prevention.
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