Do You Need Prebiotics?

Everyone has heard of probiotics, found in foods like yogurt and supplements, boasting a wide range of health benefits. 

But how many people have heard of prebiotics? While probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines, prebiotics are the food that these beneficial bacteria need to thrive.

Wondering, "Do I need prebiotics?" If you experience digestive issues, frequent infections, low energy, or skin problems, you might benefit from adding prebiotics to your diet.

These essential compounds support gut health, boost immunity, and improve overall well-being.

How Important Are Prebiotics to Our Health?

Research shows that prebiotics are as crucial to our gastrointestinal health as probiotics. Without prebiotics, the beneficial bacteria in our intestines cannot survive and thrive.

This symbiotic relationship ensures optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, which are vital for maintaining energy levels and overall vitality. 

Prebiotics also play a key role in producing short-chain fatty acids, which support gut health and reduce inflammation throughout the body. 

By maintaining a balanced gut microbiome, prebiotics help regulate hormonal functions and protect against certain chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Overall, incorporating prebiotics into your diet is crucial for sustaining a healthy and resilient body.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are defined as "nondigestible food ingredients that beneficially affect you by stimulating the growth of one or more bacteria in the colon." 

In simpler terms, these are compounds that humans cannot digest.

They travel through the stomach and small intestine to reach the large intestine, where they serve as food for beneficial bacteria.

For food ingredients to be classified as a prebiotic, they must:

  1. Not be broken down or absorbed in the stomach or small intestine.
  2. Act as a food source for one or more potentially beneficial bacteria in the large intestine.
  3. Shift the colonic microflora towards a healthier balance by increasing beneficial bacteria.
  4. Improve gastrointestinal health and general health, including boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation.

Signs You Need Prebiotics

Prebiotics are crucial for a healthy gut microbiome, and several signs indicate you might need more of them in your diet:

Digestive Issues

Frequent bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea can signal a gut bacteria imbalance. Prebiotics nourish beneficial bacteria, promoting digestive health.

Frequent Infections

A significant portion of the immune system is in the gut. Constant colds or infections may indicate a need for more prebiotics to boost immune function.

Low Energy and Mood Swings

Poor gut health affects energy levels and mood. Prebiotics support nutrient absorption and neurotransmitter production, improving both.

Skin Problems

Conditions like eczema and acne can be linked to gut health. Prebiotics reduce inflammation and support skin health by balancing gut bacteria.

Weight Management

Difficulty losing or gaining weight might stem from gut imbalances. Prebiotics help regulate metabolism and appetite.

Allergies and Food Sensitivities

Increasing allergies or food sensitivities can signal a need for prebiotics to strengthen the gut barrier and support immune function.

Incorporating prebiotic-rich foods like onions, garlic, bananas, and whole grains can help restore gut balance and improve overall health.

Types of Prebiotics

There are several types of prebiotics, each with unique benefits and potential side effects. Here are some of the most notable:

Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)

FOS includes inulin, oligofructose, and neosugar. Foods that contain FOS include onion, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion, asparagus, leek, garlic, banana, chicory, salsify, and burdock.

FOS is also available in supplement form and is sometimes added to probiotic supplements.

FOS improves dysbiosis by enhancing the growth of bifidobacteria, decreasing potentially pathogenic bacteria, and boosting the immune system.

It is particularly useful after antibiotic therapy and can help reduce allergies, eczema, and improve calcium absorption.

Start with a low dose (1-3 grams per day) to avoid abdominal bloating and flatulence, gradually increasing to a therapeutic dose.

Lactulose

Lactulose is a semi-synthetic disaccharide made from fructose and galactose, often used as a laxative.

It enhances the growth of both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, making it effective in treating candida, constipation, damaged intestinal mucosa, low immunity, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

The optimal dose is 10 grams twice daily, starting low and gradually increasing to avoid digestive symptoms.

As your levels of beneficial bacteria increase they will need more "food" which is the lactulose, so you will be able to tolerate a higher dose.

If you are sensitive to FODMAPS you can still take Lactulose but you may have to start at a very low dose like 1-2 grams a day.

Resistant Starch

Resistant starch is found in foods like unripe bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, cooked and cooled rice and legumes.

It resists digestion in the small intestine and ferments in the large intestine, feeding beneficial bacteria. Resistant starch has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, increase satiety, and reduce inflammation. It is well-tolerated but should be introduced gradually to avoid digestive discomfort.

Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum (PHGG)

PHGG is derived from guar beans and is a soluble dietary fiber. It has been shown to improve bowel function, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria.This can be beneficial for improving the butyrate producing bacteria.PHGG is gentle on the digestive system and can be easily incorporated into the diet as a supplement, it is well tolerated even on a low FODMAP diet.Optimal dose is 5 grams twice daily but like all prebiotics start on a lower dose and allow your microbiome to adjust.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)

GOS is found in human breast milk and can be manufactured from lactose. It enhances both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, decreasing pathogenic bacteria. GOS is beneficial for treating constipation, allergies, infections, IBS, and metabolic syndrome. GOS offers a wide range of health benefits with minimal side effects, I still recommend starting on a low dose and then increasing to 3-5 grams a day.

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, known for their antioxidant properties. They play a significant role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome by fostering the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibiting harmful ones.

Polyphenols encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Polyphenols inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, reducing the risk of infections and inflammation in the gut.

They also promote a healthy gut lining, polyphenols help prevent conditions like leaky gut syndrome, which can lead to various health issues.

Polyphenols reduce inflammation in the gut, which can alleviate symptoms of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Prebiotic foods

Who Are Prebiotics For?

Prebiotics can be taken safely by anyone but are particularly beneficial for children suffering from recurrent infections and allergies. They are also useful for individuals with chronic conditions such as IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, and those recovering from antibiotic treatment. 

For children, FOS is a good starting point, while adults may benefit from a combination of prebiotics like Ultra Flora Digest.

Combining prebiotics with an appropriate probiotic supplement can significantly enhance health outcomes. A balanced diet free from allergens, complemented by prebiotics and probiotics, can lead to remarkable health improvements.

Tests to Consider

Prebiotics help to promote bacteria that produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) and the Gut Zoomer test is an excellent option not only to assess the butyrate producing bacteria, but also your SCFA levels.

The Vibrant Wellness Gut Zoomer also assesses pathogenic bacteria, parasites, candida, as well as the inflammation markers and other intestinal health markers.

Conclusion

Prebiotics play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, supporting the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria. 

Including a variety of prebiotic-rich foods and supplements in your diet can help improve digestive health, boost immunity, and reduce inflammation. 

Start with small doses and gradually increase to avoid any potential digestive discomfort. By nurturing your gut health, you're investing in your overall well-being.

Was this article helpful?
YesNo

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains Amazon affiliate links, which means we may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. You will pay the same price (or get a discount) for all products and services, and your purchase helps support Planet Naturopath’s ongoing research and work. Thanks for your support!

Planet Naturopath Editorial Policy