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Why prebiotics may actually be more important than probiotics

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

You’ve heard of probiotics, but what about prebiotics? Our gut microbiome hosts billions of bacteria – good and bad. It is estimated to contain around 100 trillion bacteria, which can weigh up to 2kg (that’s weight equivalent of 2L bottle of water!). These bacteria can be found on the skin’s surface, inside the mouth and vaginally but most of them reside in the large intestine.


We’ve known for some time now that we need to support our friendly bacteria and make an effort to add probiotics in our daily diets, either through food or supplements. However, in recent years research has been focusing on prebiotics and their role in maintaining gut health.


So, what are prebiotics?


Both probiotics and prebiotics are extremely important to our health, but probiotics will not work without prebiotics.


Prebiotics are the food for the probiotics! The supply fuel and nourishment for the good bacteria, helping the good bacteria to thrive and push out the bad guys, what we tend to call opportunistic bacteria.


Prebiotics are essentially a form of indigestible fibre found in a variety of foods. Think of them as these super microorganisms that can pass small intestine undigested delivering powerful nutrients to your good bacteria helping them flourish, increasing your gut biodiversity and thereby improving your overall health. Pretty cool don’t you think?!

Having a healthy and balanced gut bacteria is associated with:


  1. Healthier weight. Some studies suggest that diverse gut flora can reduce cravings and balance metabolic pathways leading to healthier weight.

  2. A stronger immune system. After all, nearly 70% of our immune system resides in the gut.

  3. A lowered risk in developing allergies. Biodiversity supports and modulates immune response to possible allergens.

  4. A stronger gut-brain connection. Emerging research is showing direct links with mental health and related conditions such as anxiety and depression being linked to the biodiversity of the microbiome. This is also known as nutritional psychiatry (and area we specialise in here at Urban Wellness)

  5. A happy gut is a happy YOU! Plenty of recent studies have found links to our gut health and our mood regulation. Prebiotics and probiotics help your body absorb essential nutrients that are needed to build hormone chemicals.

  6. Lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Prebiotics also have what is known as a hypo-cholesterolemic effect which helps the body fight off cardiovascular disease. This is particularly important in menopause, for as oestrogen levels decline this naturally raises our cholesterol levels. Read more about managing cholesterol in menopause here

  7. Better response to stress. Microbiome diversity impacts the body’s ability to create and release stress hormones. And, when we get stressed, blood flow moves away from the gut as part of our innate flight-and-flight response, and this, over time, reduces out good bacteria. Consuming prebiotics can make positive cortisol changes in the event of stress and helps support healthy microbiome levels.

An apple a day helps keep the bad gut bugs away!

“An apple a day helps keep the bad gut bugs away!”

Prebiotics can be easily incorporated in our diets, for they can be found in high-fibre foods. Whilst quantities of prebiotic in foods may be difficult to assess, the key is to aim for varied and balanced diet that includes a great selection of foods, such as:


  1. garlic

  2. Jerusalem artichoke

  3. apples

  4. onions (white, red, shallots and Spring)

  5. tomatoes

  6. asparagus

  7. leeks

  8. cabbage

  9. green bananas

  10. root vegetables

  11. oats

  12. legumes (chickpeas, lentils and beans)

  13. cocoa

  14. blueberries

  15. kiwi fruit

  16. buckwheat

  17. wheatbran

Blueberries are a prebiotic food

Simple ways to add fibre and those prebiotic compounds in your diet:

  1. An apple a day keeps the bad gut bugs away! Apples are a rich source of a valuable prebiotic soluble fibre called pectin. Found both within the skin and the pulp.

  2. Add garlic to everything you cook

  3. Batch roast root vegetables: carrots, beetroot, parsnip, onions; place in an airtight container in the fridge adding some to every meal. Roasted veg can keep for 3 days refrigerated.

  4. Keep frozen blueberries in the freezer and add to smoothies, porridge or sprinkle over cereal (defrosted of course!).

  5. Use pre-cooked packets of lentils and rice (Tilda and Merchant gourmet are great brands) – super convenient and also a great source of resistant starch which further feeds your gut microbes.

Resources:

  1. Slavin J (2013) ‘Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits’, Nutrients, 5(4) pp1417-1435.

  2. Davani-Davari D, Negahdaripour M, Karimzadeh I, et al (2019) ‘Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications’, Foods 8(3):92

  3. Schmidt, K., Cowen, P. J., Harmer, C. J., Tzortzis, G., Errington, S., & Burnet, P. W. (2015). Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 232(10), 1793–1801. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0

  4. Roberfroid, M., Gibson, G. R., Hoyles, L., McCartney, A. L., Rastall, R., Rowland, I., Wolvers, D., Watzl, B., Szajewska, H., Stahl, B., Guarner, F., Respondek, F., Whelan, K., Coxam, V., Davicco, M. J., Léotoing, L., Wittrant, Y., Delzenne, N. M., Cani, P. D., Neyrinck, A. M., … Meheust, A. (2010). Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. The British journal of nutrition, 104 Suppl 2, S1–S63. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114510003363

  5. Licht, T. R., Hansen, M., Bergström, A., Poulsen, M., Krath, B. N., Markowski, J., Dragsted, L. O., & Wilcks, A. (2010). Effects of apples and specific apple components on the cecal environment of conventional rats: role of apple pectin. BMC microbiology, 10, 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2180-10-13

  6. Sorrenti, V., Ali, S., Mancin, L., Davinelli, S., Paoli, A., & Scapagnini, G. (2020). Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health. Nutrients, 12(7), 1908. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12071908

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