Prebiotics and Probiotics for gut & microbiome health

By Dr. Shahab Hyder, MD, Internal Medicine at Neurology Solutions

Maintaining the health of your gut microbiome can result in significant health benefits. It has been shown that there is interaction with the GI microbiome and the central nervous system (the microbiome-gut-brain axis), which has already been linked to mood disorders. Poor gut microbiome health can also contribute to a range of inflammatory, metabolic and pathogenic diseases. Measures can be taken to optimize your gut health. First and foremost is making dietary changes such as reducing sugars, saturated fats and processed food from your diet. Other strategies that you can do to modulate the composition of you gut bacterial is using probiotics and prebiotics. These terms have become mainstream over the past several years, but what exactly are pre and probiotic? What are the differences between pre and probiotics, and what are the benefits of each? A brief overview will be provided.

Prebiotics

First, we will begin with a definition of “prebiotics”. Prebiotics are defined as non-digestible dietary substances that can be degraded by gut microbiome, stimulating growth of beneficial gut bacteria that in turn improves host health (you being the host). To put it simply, prebiotics are substances (usually specialized plant fibers) that “feed” your good gut bacteria. Examples of foods that provide prebiotics are asparagus, onions, oats, flaxseeds, apples, and garlic. In supplement form, examples of prebiotics are Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), inulin, and Psyllium (Metamucil).

Prebiotics, not only “feed” healthy gut bacteria, but also have been found to have other beneficial effects on health. Byproducts of prebiotic fermentation are called short-chain fatty acids. These byproducts are small enough to get into your blood stream, thus prebiotics not only affect the GI tract but also other organ sites. Studies have shown prebiotics may be beneficial in GI illnesses such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Disease, Colorectal Cancer, and Necrotizing Enterocolitis. Prebiotics also can improve the immune system by altering the composition of the microorganisms in your GI tract, promoting the population of protective microorganisms while decreasing the population of harmful bacteria. Research suggests that prebiotics may also be beneficial against vascular disease, obesity, and mental health disorders. Prebiotics are generally easily tolerated and do not have life threatening or severe side effects. Common side effects from prebiotics include diarrhea, bloating, cramping, and flatulence.

Probiotics

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization define Probiotics as, “Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts, confer health benefits on the host.” These microorganisms have the ability to change the GI microbiome positively, interact with immune cells improving immune function and reduce pathogenic bacteria that can release toxic compounds into the GI tract. Probiotics have been found to be beneficial for human health in a variety of disease processes ranging from depression and anxiety to gastrointestinal disorders such as colon cancer and irritable bowel syndrome. 

As noted above, probiotics do appear to have a positive effect on the immune function by interacting with intestinal immune cells. This interaction can improve the host’s immune system by stimulating immune response and also results in improved management of immune and inflammatory related diseases, as well as pathogenic infections. There is also evidence of benefits in neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (research is current ongoing). Probiotics have also been studied as treatments for depression and anxiety. Recent meta-analysis of clinical trials note that there is general support for antidepressant and anxiolytic effects of probiotics. 

Probiotics are generally well tolerated, w/ side effects mainly being gastrointestinal in nature. There are several ways to take probiotics. You can incorporate fermented foods into your diet. Examples of such are grass-fed Yogurt (low or no sugar), Kimchi, Kefir, Sauerkraut, and Kombucha. Probiotics can also be purchased over the counter although it is difficult to navigate through the different products available. A general recommendation is to choose probiotic products with at least 1 billion colony forming units and containing Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium or Saccharomyces boulardii, which are some of the more researched probiotics. Probiotics such as Lactobacillus helveticus, and Bifidobacterium longum have been studied specifically for mood and appear to provide benefit for depression and anxiety. Do not take probiotic supplements if you have a compromised immune system.

In summary, pre and probiotics, when properly utilized along with a diet low in processed foods and sugars, can have a major positive effect on your GI microbiome. These changes to your gut can result in overall health benefits as noted above. Ask us about Neurology Solutions’ GI protocol for further information regarding options for pre and probiotics.

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