THE FRIEND WITHIN YOU: PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS

Do you frequently suffer from symptoms related to the gastrointestinal system? While not always dangerous, these symptoms certainly reduce comfort and deter quality of life. The brighter side to it, is that the solution to your problem may lie well within you.

Nature is beautifully designed in such a way that the survival and wellbeing of all living beings is interdependent. We as human beings are also a part of this symbiotic existence. Just as there are several microorganisms in and around us that harm us, there are also those that benefit us. Let’s take a closer look atthose that are proven to be beneficial to our gastrointestinal tract-they are called “Probiotics”.

Many different probiotic organisms have different but overlapping benefits. They help promote health at the molecular level. But when the balance of these gutmicrobes gets disturbed, it can result in chronic diseases that include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer. Allergic disorders, asthma, vitamin B12 deficiency and even obesity are related to an unhealthy population of intestinal bacteria. This imbalance can be created due to unhealthy diet and lifestyle, as well as environmental factors such as pollution and overuse of antibiotics. Even simple aging gradually disturbs this balance.

Did you know?
Strains of the bacteria Lactobacillus, Streptococcus and Bifidobacteriumare the probiotics in the gut. A few common conditions they help treat are :

• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

• Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

• Crohn’s disease

• Ulcerative Colitis

• Infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites)

• Antibiotic-related diarrhea

They fight the potentially dangerous organisms in the intestine, reducing the risk of infection and diseases and strengthen the inner lining of intestines which acts as barriers to harmful microorganisms and chemicals. They regulate immune responses and also suppress excessive inflammation. They are also known to play a significant role in preventing colon cancer which is the third most common cancer in the world. There is some research to show they may help resolve problems in other parts of our body such as skin conditions (like eczema), urinary and vaginal health, preventing allergies and colds, oral health, cardiovascular health, etc.

Because of their multiple benefits, probiotic supplements are often prescribed by doctors for treating various gastrointestinal diseases. Probiotics should also be incorporated inour daily diet. The simplest, natural, home based source of probiotics is freshly prepared curd/yogurt. Food products consumed in different parts of the world are also probiotic such as sauerkraut (Germany), miso (Japan), kefir (Middle East) and tempeh (Indonesia). Probiotic milk is also available these days in the supermarket. However one thing should be kept in mind, cooking temperatures and freezing temperatures kill the bacteria. Therefore, to gain maximum benefit, these foods need to be consumed in the uncooked/non pasteurized and fresh form.

An interesting fact is that certain non-digestible, fibrous food ingredients can actually promote the growth of probiotics in our guts. They are called “Prebiotics”. Somefoods popular for their prebiotic properties are as follows :

• Raw garlic

• Raw onion

• Wheat bran

• Raw banana

• Oats

• Asparagus (Shatavari)

• Flax seeds (Javas)

• Chia seeds

Probiotics are thus a valuable addition to a balanced diet. And when coupled with prebiotics, the two in conjunction can go a long way in giving you a happy and healthy gut.

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