Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine famously proclaimed about disease pathology “All disease begins in the gut.” While, one can search for some exceptions to this quote, it’s generally agreed upon that many chronic diseases arise from issues relating to our gut. These issues can stem from what we feed our gut, how this food is broken down and how it’s absorbed. Our “guts” are comprised of different bacterial colonies that have been present since birth and thrive off of the foods that we eat. This bacterial ecosystem has been linked to influencing a wide range of body processes namely our digestive and immune systems.
Commonly our bacterial ecosystem will be labeled as being comprised of “good” and “bad” bacteria. These bad bacterias have been linked to negative health outcomes whereas the good bacterias are associated with various health benefits. Probiotics consist of some of these “good” bacterias that make up the colonies found in our body. Probiotics can be found in food sources like: Yogurt, Kefir, Cheeses, Kimchi, Natto, Escabeche, Sauerkraut, and Sourdough Bread. Prebiotics are indigestible plant fibers that act as a food source for the good bacteria. Prebiotics can be found in food sources like: Bananas, Oats, Beans, Jicama, and Onions. It’s important to include both sources in one’s diet as the probiotics improve the diversity of our gut flora and the prebiotics provide these “good” bacterias with sustenance to thrive in our g.i.
As mentioned earlier improving gut health has been linked to supporting better health outcomes for
Probiotics have been observed to enhance nonspecific cellular immune response like the activation of marcophages, natural killer cells, T-lymphocytes and various cytokines. Probiotics therapy can also improve the intestine’s immunologic barrier. Microbes in our g.i signal cellular processes that affect our immune response. In a study highly trained athletes were supplemented with probiotics daily for 12 weeks to measure the effects of probiotics on the incidence of infections. After the 12 weeks of treatment the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in the athletes was reduced.
Probiotics are showing promising results related to metabolic health outcomes in the form of aiding the reduction of abdominal fat, weight loss and promotion of anti-obesogenic hormones in animal studies. A study was conducted on 210 adults who consumed probiotic rich fermented milk for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12 week study there was an 8.5% reduction in abdominal fat in the probiotic supplemented group. A separate study measuring the effects of probiotic administration on abdominal adiposity, body weight and other measures showed that probiotic administration lowered levels of abdominal adiposity by 4.6% on average, body weight decreased by 1.4%, BMI by 1.5% and waist by 1.8%. One of the most interesting aspects of probiotics is that in animal studies there’s promising results suggesting probiotic supplementation can promote the release of appetite regulating hormones like Glucagon Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1) which reduces food intake and improves glucose tolerance.
Interestingly our gut flora appears to even impact our mental health by impacting conditions like anxiety, depression and memory. Our gut-brain axis is the signaling that occurs between our G.I and CNS, apparently in addition to this systems connections extend beyond processes we typically associate it with like energy balance regulation. In a systematic review of 38 studies (including 15 on humans) looking at the effects of probiotic supplementation. Probiotics were efficacious in improving conditions like anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, spatial and non-spatial memory. A study on IBS patients with symptoms of depression treated with either probiotics or a placebo found that after 6 weeks of probiotic administration, depression scores decreased in 32% more in the probiotic patients compared to those who took a placebo. A randomized control trial on 60 Alzheimer’s disease patients was conducted to asses effects of probiotic supplementation on cognitive function, after 12 weeks of probiotic supplementation positive effects on cognitive function markers were observed including improved MMSE score, beta cell function and changes in plasma malondialdehyde (MDA).
How to use Pre and Probiotics (Synbiotics)
As mentioned earlier pre and probiotics can have a synergistic effect. Having “good” bacteria as part of our gut flora has positive effects on various health outcomes but for these processes to be optimized these bacterias need to be fed nutrients to ensure their survival. One could pair pre and probiotics at meals like yogurt (pro) and oatmeal (pre) or choose to supplement with one or the other around meal time i.e a spoonful of sauerkraut (pro) before a large meal or a high fiber plant source (pre) after a large meal