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Gut Health - Probiotics, Synbiotics and Fermented Foods

You might wonder, do I have to take prebiotics and probiotics together to receive the benefit? The answer is no, but it may be easier to take them in one shot. In this blog post we are going to discuss synbiotics and fermented foods.

Synbiotic is a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. If you are taking a probiotic and are worried you are not getting enough prebiotic in your diet, taking a combination can be an easy solution. But remember, most probiotics are transient in the gut, just passing through, so you will be feeding the bacteria that is already there.

It does not matter much to your gut if you take a prebiotic at the same time as your probiotic versus taking a probiotic supplement and then getting your prebiotics from other sources at different times in the day.

The downside of these synbiotics is most of the current formulas contain such a small amount of prebiotics that they are not incredibly helpful, at least not by themselves. It is good for you to be aware of synbiotics because as researchers learn more about the microbiome it’s likely that synergistic formulas will be improved in the coming years.

Another way to nourish the gut bacteria and increase the amount of probiotic bacteria in your gut is through the consumption of fermented foods.

Did you know that the first probiotic bacteria were discovered in fermented foods? Back in the 13th century, Marco Polo reported having consumed kefir, which is fermented milk in Asia. Later, the health benefits of lactobacillus were discovered by watching the Bulgarians drink fermented yogurt. People were amazed by their longevity & strength, in fact, most of the blue zones, areas that are studied for their longevity and health populations consume some form of fermented foods in their traditional diet.

Fermentation is the process of chemical breakdown of food by the bacteria it contains. When foods are fermented their nutrient levels increase and they become more easily digestible as they have already been predigested by the bacteria. Any vitamins or nutrients that exist in the food are readily available. Some are even created by the bacteria doing the fermenting.

Fermented foods include:

  • Pickles

  • Kimchee

  • Sauerkraut

  • Kombucha

  • Fermented cabbage juice

  • Kefir

Some people who are lactic intolerant can tolerate Kefir, as the bacteria eat up the lactose. There are also water Kefir and coconut Kefir products available today. These drinks are Kefirs because they are made with Kefir grains. Milk Kefir is made with a combination of bacteria and yeast.

The great thing about fermented foods is that they contain a collection of bacteria. The CFU count typically is not high and they die fast but the variety of bacteria is unparalleled.

Fermented foods collect bacteria from the air and whatever is on surface of the food to do the fermenting and sometimes to start a culture. Before refrigeration fermentation was used as a storage technique to help foods last through the winter.

The benefits of fermented foods are numerous. Studies have shown that fermented foods can improve mood, can improve immunity and help down regulate inflammation. Fermented foods directly help balance the pH of the intestines and increase stomach acid. However, fermented foods may be irritating to people that have heartburn or Gerd. Even though the increase in stomach acid is helpful, those with reflux problems can experience discomfort.

There are many different types of ferments and not all contain probiotics despite what the advertising may say. Fermented foods are a great addition to probiotics not a substitute for them. The benefits of fermented foods come from the amazing molecules produced in the fermentation process not from repopulating your gut with bacteria. If a product contains too much vinegar or is pasteurized there are no longer probiotics, and the same byproducts are not produced.

So, you may be wondering, what about other fermented foods like sourdough bread, the sourdough process of making bread includes fermentation and yeast. The bacteria eat the sugar in the bread giving its sour taste. Sourdough bread is more digestible than other breads, but it’s still contains gluten that might irritate conditions like leaky gut. And yes, I know what you are thinking, beer and wine are fermented and that is true.

For centuries many cultures have been fermented herbs in their wine and in their liquor. In fact, it is an old Chinese tradition to take a shot of rice wine with fermented herbs at night. However, alcohol, has other side effects that I am sure you are aware of.

Remember always consult with your doctor before taking or trying supplements to make sure they are right for you.

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