Each of us has an inner life, but I’m not talking about our spiritual, intellectual, or emotional one. No, in more concrete terms, we house thousands of species of bacteria in our gut. And without those little bugs, we would be dead. Their village is our microbiome, and we need to tend to the population by eating authentic foods (prebiotics), and not high carb, chemically laden, prepared food-like substances. Also, we need continuously to introduce fresh supplies of health-promoting bacteria (probiotics)
Food for thought (and health)
Our microbiome plays a role in not only our physical health, but our mood and behavior as well. (Gives new meaning to the term, “gut feeling,” doesn’t it.). A healthy microbiome promotes growth of “good” bacteria that can attack foreign invaders from viruses to cancer cells. We want to keep that village of thousands of good guys in balance. Enter prebiotics and probiotics.
Prebiotics feed and thus stimulate growth of healthy bacteria (as opposed to bad guys like cholera). You don’t need to go far to find plenty of prebiotics. They are as near as high fiber foods such as asparagus, yams, garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, barley, oats, apples, flax seeds, and more.
The body cannot fully digest such foods, but those bacteria certainly can! Here are a few fascinating videos from, yes, by guru, Dr. Greger.
Probiotics don’t feed bacteria, they are bacteria we introduce by ingesting fermented food. Yogurt is probably the most popular and well known, especially because it is not strong or sour like other probiotics (sauerkraut, kombucha, or kimchi). I accidentally bought kimchi without noticing the word “spicy” on the label. I thought my eyeballs would bleed!
Treating an infection with antibiotics kills the bad bacteria, but also the good ones in our biome. It is good to add probiotic food to one’s diet during and after antibiotic treatment.
We can find prebiotic and probiotic supplements practically anywhere, with some produced for certain conditions. So far, while some seem to work well sometimes, there have not been enough good replication studies to show they perform better than good old fiber in the diet. It’s still the wild West out there, so buyer beware.
In my last health blog, I wrote about warning signs of questionable research claims, especially by “doctors” selling the perfect antidote for problems with the body’s defense mechanism.
Since Google apparently is determined to help me find products I’m not even remotely aware of, I found a recurring teaser from such a doctor while reading The New York Times online. His long ranting, fact-less monologue about risk factors related to butyrate made me think I needed to avoid eating foods that have butyrate. And, of course, he had just the supplement to help protect me from potential harm.
The fact is, when we feed our gut bacteria prebiotics, they return the favor by producing this butyrate, which we need to protect the very thin membrane separating our gut from our inner organs. Lack of butyrate is dangerous (almost as dangerous as misinformation).
Check university studies, Pub med, Mayo clinic website, and shortcut, –doctors Greger or Li.
Personally, I’ll stick with Mother Nature’s plan, unless advised by my personal doctor (s) and/or nutritionist to take supplements. But under most circumstances, a high fiber diet with fermented food should do just fine to fuel our inner lives.