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Mind & Body

Probiotics & Prebiotics: What They Are & Why You Need Them

The nutritional tag team your gut needs to stay happy & healthy!

Probiotics and prebiotics are some of the hottest topics (and supplements) in the wellness world right now, but what do you need to know before you take the plunge? Thanks to recent research, we now know how important our gut health is to not just our bowel movements, but to our energy, mood, libido, cognitive function, and hormones too, so it's time we started taking better care of it. Probiotics and prebiotics have entered the chat.

What are probiotics & prebiotics?

“Probiotics are live microorganisms (beneficial bacteria) that inhabit our gut,” says nutritionist Hannah Cartwright,
whereas, “Prebiotics are the food and fuel for the beneficial
bacteria (probiotics) in our gut.” Probiotics can be taken in pill form
as a supplement or through your diet in the form of fermented foods like
yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, and pickles.
Prebiotics feed good gut bacteria and are found in fruits, vegetables,
and plant-based, high-fiber foods.  

Our gut is made up of
trillions of microbes or bacteria, often referred to as gut flora. They
make up your gut microbiome – the health of which is super important for
key bodily functions, including how easily you can avoid getting sick,
and how you feel, act and behave. 

Gut health coach, Dr. Sunni Patel tells
us how prebiotics can support probiotics.
“Prebiotic fiber (in fructan rich foods like banana, oats, onions,
Jerusalem artichokes) is a valuable fuel source for the trillions of gut
bacteria by helping to create short-chain fatty acids like butyrate.”
These fatty acids go into your bloodstream and improve your metabolic
health, colon health, blood sugar levels, can aid weight loss, and even
affect brain neuroplasticity. 

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Are probiotics worth taking?

If you want to improve your overall health and wellbeing, yes.
“High-quality probiotics can help to restore an unhealthy gut into
balance. We want to make sure that we are feeding our gut bacteria with
high-quality probiotics each day to bring our gut health back in
balance,” says holistic lifestyle coach, Holly Zoccolan

Cartwright
explains why a healthy, balanced gut is so important. “Probiotics have a
huge amount of health benefits when consumed for our body and brain,
including improved digestive health, reduced depressive symptoms, and
promoting heart health. If we don't have a healthy gut, so many other
systems in our body are affected. 70% of our immune system lies along
with the gut so good gut health also strengthens our immune system.” 

Your
gut health could be out of whack for several reasons including eating
lots of processed food like takeaways and ready meals, consuming lots of
alcohol, smoking, taking antibiotics, hormones, stress and not getting enough sleep

If you’ve had a bodily complaint recently that won’t go away, it’s worth taking a look at your gut health. The gut and the brain are
constantly in communication with each other which explains why, when
you’ve got gut issues, you’re probably suffering from other frustrating
health woes like stress, depression, eczema, psoriasis, breakouts, or
yeast infections. 

Dietician Christa Brown says,
“Probiotics help crowd out harmful bacteria that may cause
gastrointestinal infections. Many of my clients who incorporate more
probiotics and prebiotics in their diet notice reduced
constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. They also notice having more
energy and overall feel less gastrointestinal distress.” 

How long does it take for probiotics to work?

“Because everyone's gut is
different, not everyone reacts to prebiotics and probiotics in the same
manner. The length of time it will take for noticeable changes is
determined by your symptoms, strains of probiotics, and a variety of
prebiotics. Signs that you’re gut health is improving are regular
stools, less bloating, stable mood, better immunity, clearer skin, fewer
yeast infections,” says nutritionist Ami Sheward

"Supplementation
timeframe can vary, but on average 8-12 weeks is a good length of time
before you reassess the effectiveness.  To get the best results
probiotic supplementation should be accompanied by diet and lifestyle
adjustments to reduce stress, improve diversity of diet, sleep well and
include moderate exercise,” says Tweeddale. Over time, probiotics and
prebiotics should increase the good bacteria, remove the bad bacteria
and reduce inflammation in your gut microbiome to make for healthier
bodily functions, not just in your digestion but all around your body. 

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How to support a healthy gut

“I recommend trying 30 different plant-based foods each week (this can also include herbs and spices) to increase
the diversity and variety of your gut microbes and ensure all are happy
– we want to feed them all, not just one group. Stress and sleep are
also very important and play a huge role in gut health so it is
important to look at your lifestyle as well as your nutrition,”
Cartwright says. 

“If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, try to swap
out one cup a day for an organic green tea, a hot chocolate made with
cacao powder, or a mushroom latte for an added prebiotic boost,” says
nutritional therapist Maija Tweeddale. 

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How to choose the right probiotic

“It might be a bit of trial and error. Each probiotic has a different
strain so you might need to try a few before you see results. What
works for your best friend might not necessarily work for you because
you're unique and your gut microbiome is individual to you,” says
Cartwright. 

“Probiotics like to have their friends around.
They’re sociable creatures who ‘talk’ to each other via chemical signals
and if they sense there are more of their kind around, they’ll start to
build a colony.  If they don’t get that sense of community then they
won’t stick around.  So, while it’s tempting to take a product that
offers many different strains of probiotics at once, this could be
inefficient as there probably won’t be enough of any one strain to
create that sense of community and colonization,” says Tweeddale. 

Step-by-step guide to choosing the right probiotic supplement for a healthy gut

Make healthy changes to your
lifestyle and nutrition by eating a well-balanced diet, improving sleep,
and reducing stress levels. 

Research specific bacterial cultures
for prebiotic supplements according to your specific symptoms (gut or
otherwise!) “Look for a product that has been tested for the problem
you're trying to solve,” says Sheward. 

Look for independent clinical trials into the specific product and brand before buying.  

Pay
attention to the CFU number (Colony Forming Units) – they should be in
the billions to make it through the digestive enzymes and hydrochloric
acid. “Choose probiotics that have at least 1 billion colony forming
units and contain the Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or
Saccharomyces Boulardii, which are some of the most researched
probiotics,” says Sheward. 

Remember that probiotics won’t fix
your complaints overnight. It might take months to get your gut back on
track as your body adjusts to lifestyle and nutrition changes. 

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Probio+

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Probiotic power

When a healthy gut means improved digestive issues, less bloating,
better mood and energy, stronger immunity, clearer skin, and fewer yeast
infections, incorporating probiotics and prebiotics could be a
queue-jump to your best, healthy self. Look after your gut health, and
it’ll look after you.