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The Role of Prebiotics, Probiotics and the Gut Microbiome

Updated: Nov 23, 2019


Many people don’t realize a healthy gut does far more than handle digestion. Research into the gut microbiome is revealing startling results, showing its effects on the immune system, obesity, allergies, and mood. Nutrition plays a firm role in gut flora quality and quantity. In fact, certain foods contain “prebiotics” that feed beneficial gut bacteria. The more beneficial bacteria we have, the greater likelihood our health will benefit. On the other hand, a diet high in refined sugars and trans fats may hinder the gut microbiota and influence practically every aspect of our health. Natural supplements such as Triphala Powder, which has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic practice, is a renowned prebiotic used for maintaining good gut health.

Probiotics and Colon Health.

Undigested polysaccharides, or carbohydrates, are commonly consumed in the human diet. These carbohydrates are metabolized into short-chain fatty acids by the gut microbiota. This, in turn, leads to production of compounds that downregulate cytokines in the colon. This could possibly explain why some research shows fibre may support colon health. The question is, could probiotic bacteria possibly reduce the risk of colon cancer? Perhaps, but it may also be related to the other components in fibre-rich foods that could be providing benefit. More research is needed to determine the answer.

Probiotics and Irritable Bowel

Probiotics have shown some positive effect for patients with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. Animal models show supplementation with probiotics may reduce the incidence of colitis, for example. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor facilitates detoxification in the gut, and one source of AHR ligands is tryptophan. This amino acid is metabolized by gut Lactobacillus bacteria, thus protecting the gut from bacterial translocation. Can increasing your tryptophan and probiotic intake influence IBS or IBD? Potentially, but the research in that regard is not yet conclusive.

Probiotics and Obesity

The effect of probiotics on obesity is an interesting one. In fact, some experts believe probiotic administration should be essential for patients with obesity. Bacterial degradation in the gut of indigestible carbohydrates produce specific metabolites that are responsible for regulating satiety hormones. One silent threat that may be influencing obesity rates around the world is artificial sweeteners. It’s been said that artificial sweeteners alter gut bacteria and induces glucose intolerance. Research has shown that probiotics may reduce this effect generated by artificial sweeteners, possibly showing that gut bacteria may play a role.

Probiotics and Fatty Liver

Fatty liver disease is an issue that is becoming more widespread, particularly the non-alcoholic form. Probiotics may provide some benefit in this regard, potentially reducing irritation associated with the disease as well as decreasing disease duration. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease induced by choline- and methacholine-deficient diets have been reversed upon administration of antibiotics, again revealing the role of bacteria in the disorder. Again, this is where we need to see increased scientific scrutiny to determine the roles of probiotics.

Probiotics and Respiratory Disease

Asthma, allergies, and general respiratory disorders have risen dramatically in recent years, with research showing probiotics may provide improvement in these conditions. It’s theorized that by introducing Bacteroides and dietary fibre into the diet, activation of antigens promoting asthma may decrease. With this evidence, we can no longer blame asthma on simple external factors, like pollution.

Are You Getting Enough Probiotics and Prebiotics?

If you’re eating a typical modern diet, chances are your digestive health is not optimal and you’re not getting enough probiotics daily. Even if you are following a healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult getting enough good bacteria in your diet due to the limited food sources. One way to get this beneficial bacterium is by taking a probiotic supplement. In addition, you want to make sure to avoid as much as possible refined sugars to ensure you’re keeping a good balance of good and bad bacteria.

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