There are thousands of various live organisms in and on your body at any given moment. They coexist and form a nice ecosystem, helping you to process nutrients and defend yourself from pathogenic organisms and viruses. Your bacterias’ food is called “prebiotics.”
The following factors negatively affect your innate bacterial balance, making it easier for opportunistic bacteria to take over:
- Environmental stress
- Poor diet
- Prescription medications
- An abundance of sanitization.
If your beneficial bacteria are depleted, they are less capable of helping you. Instead, pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and other nasty organisms might overgrow, causing various issues ranging from depression to constipation.
On the other hand, too many good bacteria of the same kind or in the wrong place could also lead to health issues.
Ideally, you are looking for a balance and variety: many different types of good bacteria, all in the right places, controlling the population of potentially pathogenic bacteria. Bacterial heaven!
Research is just catching up with what kind of strains are beneficial and how to support and restore the balance of good bacteria. The human microbiome project was launched in 2008 and since then has been focusing on five body sites (oral cavity, skin, vagina, gut, and nasal/lung) to research and catalog bacterial strains.
I’m sure you’ve heard that several probiotic strains have been showing promise in helping women prevent urinary tract infections. Here are a couple of posts to get you up to speed:
Of course, scientists still don’t know about all bacterial strains and their functions. Some bacteria are more researched than others. However, probiotic supplementation is gaining popularity and is here to stay.
Probiotic supplements are the only known way to quickly restore beneficial bacteria while targeting specific strains. At the same time, drinking probiotics could be as effective as flushing your money down the drain.
Moreover, what we know now, is that bacteria contained in probiotic supplements cannot permanently colonize your body and are, in most cases, transient. This means they support your microbiome while you are taking the probiotic supplements and shortly (3-7 days) after, but once you stop, they are washed out of your body.
The truth is, populating your body with beneficial bacteria is not as easy as just taking your probiotic supplement daily. You have to gradually rebuild the ecosystem by providing the necessary nutrients.
Imagine you want to have a pet fish in an aquarium. That would not only require adding the fish to the water, but you also need to feed the fish, clean the aquarium, etc. Otherwise, they will die and not form a striving colony.
Same with your friendly bacteria. You must feed your “good guys” a certain diet and limit your exposure to environmental factors that negatively impact your fragile microbiome.
Prebiotics=food for good bacteria
The majority of Americans prefer white rice over brown and a soda drink instead of a kale smoothie. This means a diet full of simple carbs and sugars. Unfortunately, simply adding psyllium husk to your smoothie is not a solution: variety is key.
A contemporary diet makes us sick and starves our good bacteria.
In a study reported in Nature Communications in April, African-American volunteers who shifted from an American diet to high-fiber, low-fat African cuisine experienced a drop in inflammation in just two weeks.
At the same time, a diet high in vegetable oils that contain omega-6 fatty acids also disrupts gut microbiota.
Yet another study found that saturated fat is a major contributor to the misbalance of the gut flora and might lead to autoimmune diseases, leaky gut, and chronic inflammation.
In short, to please your gut microbiome, avoid the following:
- Saturated fat
- Simple carbohydrates that break down into sugars
If you are eating the standard American diet and drinking probiotics, the good bacteria will only pass through with no lasting effect on your health because you are starving them.
What you really need to eat is a non-digestible food ingredient (fiber) that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. In short – prebiotics.
Variety is crucial
So what should you do? Can you add psyllium husk once per day to increase your fiber intake? The answer is, unfortunately, no. Adding just one type of complex fiber to your diet is not going to promote bacterial diversity.
Jeff Leach, who heads the American Gut project, is known to eat 20 to 30 species of plants per week, which results in approximately 50 and 150 grams of fiber a day. Outstanding!
Here is how Jeff describes his food shopping approach: ” I always look at it [shopping cart] and say how much food in this is for me, and how much food is for my bacteria? That math is really simple. It’s how much dietary fiber and resistant starch is in here, and how am I going to prepare this? … So, I typically look at my grocery cart and make sure I feed my bacteria diversity and quantity of dietary fiber”.
Your perfect balance is unique to you.
We know what a normal blood pressure level is and what a good blood test result should look like, but we can’t say the same about the microbiome.
The truth is, we still know very little about the lives of our own bacteria. We really do not know how most bacteria interact with our body processes or what the ideal composition of the microbiome is.
Certain parts of our bodies have more diverse microbiomes than others. Even more so, certain parts of our bodies have a distinctive bacterial composition compared to other healthy individuals, while others have striking similarities.
For example, healthy vaginal flora samples have been studied in different parts of the world, and the vaginal microbiome is surprisingly consistent: a healthy woman in Africa will have a similar set of bacterial strains as a healthy woman in Europe or United States. At the same time, the gut microbiome is much more diverse when compared to an individual level.
Human microbiome research is continuing to uncover patterns in healthy human bacterial composition, but we still don’t know for sure what constitutes “the norm” when it comes to the microbiome.
Therefore, a good prebiotic diet will promote the growth of beneficial bacteria specific to your microbiological profile, which is even more important than shopping for a potent probiotic product that might or might not include the strains you need.
What do commercial prebiotics consist of?
If you are not so sure that consuming 20 different veggies per week is an easy feat, you should definitely consider a probiotic supplement.
Here are valuable ingredients that you can expect a prebiotic product to deliver:
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS). They are short and medium-chain sugar molecules that the body can’t digest but the bacteria love. They are mostly derived from inulin.
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS). GOS has been shown to be an excellent substrate for health-promoting bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
- Inulin. Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants, industrially most often extracted from chicory.
- Resistant starch (RS). RS is starch, including its degradation products, that our small intestines can’t digest.
- Soluble dietary fiber. Fiber that dissolves in water and ferments in the colon into gases and physiologically active byproducts.
I’ve been using a Hyperbiotics prebiotic, and here is a detailed review of the ingredients in this product.
Organic Acacia Fiber
This phenomenal plant food, also known as gum arabic or acacia gum, can do wonders for your digestive health. Acacia fiber comes from the sap of the acacia tree, which grows mainly in Africa and India. The slow fermentation rate of this fiber in the gut also means it is easy to tolerate.
Organic Jerusalem artichoke fiber
Jerusalem artichoke fiber is full of minerals and electrolytes and has been shown to stimulate the immune system by nourishing healthy gut bacteria. The fiber from this tuber provides a slew of other benefits, which include helping you feel and stay full and kickstarting your metabolism. Jerusalem artichokes are full of minerals and antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E.
Organic green banana flour
Green banana flour is made from unripened green bananas, which are high in potassium, dietary fiber, and resistant starch. Resistant starch is broken down in the small intestine and passes through the body undigested so it can directly fuel your gut bacteria so they can survive and thrive. Green banana flour can also help with weight loss, balance blood sugar levels, and promote a healthy pH balance in the colon.
A single jar lasts for up two months, and I normally add just one scoop into my smoothie.
I typically mix it together with a carrot, apple, kale, avocado, orange juice, and celery for my lunch meal. I like that the powder almost lacks any taste and does not overpower the taste of my smoothies.
Hyperbiotics Prebiotic Powder is the ideal mix of inulin, FOS, resistant starch, and soluble dietary fiber designed to nurture your beneficial bacteria and keep you healthy by:
- Promoting optimal digestive health
- Fortifying immune function
- Supporting energy levels, brain function, and mental clarity
- Reinforcing your gut barrier and reducing gut permeability
- Promoting a healthy metabolism and supporting weight loss
- Discouraging the growth of unfriendly bacteria and yeasts
Prebiotics are the food that your good bacteria need to stay alive and flourish. The most important thing to remember about prebiotics, though, is this: If your diet is right, I don’t think taking a separate prebiotic supplement is necessary.
To help maintain a healthy level of prebiotics, you can feed them with the foods you eat. Foods rich in prebiotics include asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, legumes, and a variety of veggies.
In any case, when recovering from UTI and especially after taking antibiotics, it is crucial to maintain a healthy diet. If you are taking a probiotic supplement, paying attention to what you eat could make a big difference.
What are your favorite ways to include healthy prebiotics in your diet?