As years go by, Americans are becoming more health conscious to things that used to be ignored. Sure, we’ve known about counting calories, exercising, and vitamins forever, but now we’re becoming cognizant of extremely important things that weren’t common knowledge in the past. Case in point: gut health.
Health professionals are now encouraging their patients to think of their gut as the body’s second brain. Why? Because our gut is home to over 100,000,000,000,000 (that’s 100 trillion) good bacteria. To put that number into perspective, if a pallet full of $100 bills equaling $100 million was sitting in front of you, you would need a warehouse the size of a grocery store to hold the 10,000 pallets stacked on top of one another it would take to equal 1 trillion dollars. Now, you would need 99 more warehouses to equal the amount of tiny organisms living in your gut. In fact, there are 10 times the amount of good bacteria in our gut than there are cells in our body.
Amongst other things, these bacteria:
- help regulate metabolism
- keep bowel movements regular
- protect us from depression
- compete with unhealthy bacteria for food
- help us to extract minerals from our food
- help us to produce essential fatty acids
- stimulate cell repair
- combat allergies and inflammation
So, how can we keep our second brain healthy and functioning at the optimum level? It starts with keeping the gut flora (bacteria) healthy and replenished. One way to do this is by supplementing with prebiotics and probiotics.
What are pre and probiotics and where can we get them? Let’s take a look…
Whenever we hear the word bacteria, thoughts of sickness come to mind. But, not all bacteria is bad. In fact, there are over 500 different kinds of bacteria in our body that aid our intestines in digestion, while also helping our immune system fight illness. Probiotics are defined as a preparation (as a dietary supplement) containing live bacteria (as lactobacilli) that is taken orally to restore beneficial bacteria to the body. They are the antithesis of antibiotics, which kill off harmful bacteria and cure infections. You can find probiotic supplements just about anywhere these days. Most drug stores carry them, as well as a lot of big box stores. The easiest way, but possibly most confusing way to shop for them is online. Entering in the keyword probiotics into amazon.com brings up nearly 11,000 hits. To ensure you’re getting a good brand read the label, look to see how many living organisms there are in each serving. If they’re not in the billions, you’re literally just flushing money down the toilet (remember, 100 trillion). You can also find them in a variety of fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and soft cheese.
Now that we know what probiotics are and how important the good bacteria in our body is, we can discuss prebiotics. Prebiotics are cousins to probiotics in that they are simply the food that feeds the good bacteria. Bacteria is like any living organism, it needs proper nourishment to function well. Prebiotics stimulate the growth and activity of the intestinal bacteria that is associated with health and wellbeing. Prebiotics aren’t living organisms like probiotics, they are just ingestible dietary fibers that feed the probiotics.
Like probiotics, prebiotics can be found in supplements and food. They are relatively inexpensive in supplement form, and they can be found in foods like onions, bananas, garlic, honey, leeks, and artichokes. Unfortunately, the standard American diet is severely lacking in prebiotics, so don’t be afraid to search out for the foods that contain them while you’re at the grocery store.
The gut is a complicated and fascinating part of the human body; doctors and researchers are learning more about it every day. Keeping your gut flora populated and nourished is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and supplementing with good pre and probiotics should be a part of your routine.