Why Prebiotics Are Essential for a Healthy Gut

Why Prebiotics Are Essential for a Healthy Gut

Learn how prebiotics play a key role in supporting gut health.

You have probably heard of probiotics, but did you know that prebiotics are just as essential to a healthy gut?

Prebiotics help support your gut balance and are a key part of ensuring you stay healthy. As you may know, a healthy gut is vital to your overall health and wellness. There is more to gut health than just digestion - a healthy gut plays a vital role in your immune system, mental health, and even brain function.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the definition of prebiotics, how they work, and just how important they are to your health and well-being.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of dietary fibre that essentially “feed” the bacteria in your gut [1]. They are designed to pass through our bodies undigested to promote healthy bacterial growth.

There are several types of prebiotics, with fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides two of the most important and well-studied groups [2]. Don’t worry about the names - there won’t be a quiz!

The most well-studied classes of prebiotics are plant-derived oligosaccharide carbohydrates (OSC’s) which includes fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin as well as galactooligosaccharides (GOS).  More recently, the research has expanded to include substrates like resistant starch (e.g. raw banana), pectins (e.g. citrus fruits) and beta-glucans (e.g. mushrooms or oats), among others, not all of which are strictly carbohydrates.  This list will continue to be refined alongside more extensive research based on human studies.

The different types are important to the diversity of your gut microbiome. For example, bananas contain resistant starch while apples are a source of pectin [3]. Consuming both foods provide different types of fibre and help you maintain a diverse microbiome. The benefits of having a highly diverse microbiome are significant as it provides essential metabolic, immunologic, and protective functions.

How Do Prebiotics Improve Your Health?

Prebiotics make their way through the stomach and small intestine intact where they finally reach the colon. It is here where they are fermented by the bacteria in your gut, which cause a specific change in the composition and/or activity of the gut microbiota [5].

As the good bacteria in your gut feed off the prebiotic fibre, they set in motion a chain of reactions that provide many health benefits. One reaction is the formation of short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids are involved in the metabolism of important nutrients like carbs and fat. They are also beneficial against some disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes [6].

What Are the Benefits of Prebiotics?

The production of short-chain fatty acids is just one reaction caused by improving the diversity and balance in your gut microbiome. Research has shown that prebiotics improve digestive regularity, provide energy-yielding metabolites, keep hunger levels in check, have positive effects on the immune system, lower blood cholesterol and blood glucose, and encourage healthy weight loss [7].

Studies have also shown that prebiotics can decrease the population of harmful bacteria and can encourage the production of immunity molecules [8].

The estimated daily prebiotic fibre requirement is 35-50 grams a day to harness all of their helpful benefits [9]. Many of us with Western diets are well below the recommended amount of prebiotic fibre, so an effort needs to be made to ensure we’re getting enough in our diets.

Natural Sources of Prebiotics

The good news is it is easy to increase the amount of prebiotic fibre in your diet. Prebiotics are naturally found in foods such as artichokes, wheat, onions, chicory, garlic, leeks, bananas, watermelon, grapefruit, cereals, beans, peas, and seaweed [10]. You can also take prebiotic supplements or try prebiotic drinks, like our ReVibe Sodas with their plant-based soluble prebiotic fibre blend.

As we mentioned before, there are different types of prebiotic fibre. It is important to consume a variety of prebiotic foods to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit. For example, insoluble fibres such as whole grains, are generally poorly fermented by gut microbes but they do increase the gut transit rate. This helps keep you, shall we say, regular. While soluble fibres, such as asparagus and onions, are readily fermented by the gut microbiota which in turn support your immunity, digestion, and overall health [11].

The Bottom Line

There is much to gain by adding more prebiotic foods to your diet. They improve digestion, support immunity, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Though it is important to note that there can be too much of a good thing. A healthy gut is all about balance, and too much of one thing can disrupt the delicate equilibrium in your gut microbiome. Sticking to the recommended prebiotic intake and following a healthy and varied diet will help keep your gut healthy and happy.