Gut Microbiota, Prebiotics, Probiotics & Health

Gut microbiota, prebiotic and probiotic. Do these words sound familiar? How are they connected to one another and what role do they play in our health?

Let’s start off with a little background:

What is gut microbiota?

  • Gut microbiota is the microbe (microscopicorganismsbacteriafungiprotozoa, and viruses) population living in an individual’s intestines.
  • In recent times, research studies have recognized the relationship between human health and the gut microbiota. One focus has been the connection of gut microbiota imbalances and metabolic dysfunction.1
  • One of the major players in gut microbiota composition and function is our diet.
    • Prebiotics and probiotics have received positive attention for their potential role in improving the health of gut microbiota.
      • According to diabetes educator and registered dietitian, Meghan Jardine, “Modulation of host microbiota with diet, prebiotics, or probiotics may offer potential therapies for improvements in body weight and glycemic control for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes”.1
    • Other factors shaping gut microbiota include: how a baby is delivered (vaginal or cesarean section), genetics, use of antibiotics, and the environment.1

Current known functions of gut microbiota include:

  • Breakdown of non-digestible complex carbohydrates
  • Formation of vitamins
  • Strengthening of the microvilli (short hair-like structures projecting from the surface of the small intestine)
  • Protect host from disease producing agents by maintaining the integrity of the gut barrier1

Prebiotic defined

  • Prebiotic is defined as, “a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in composition and/or activity, in the gut microbiota that confers health benefits upon host well-being and health”.1
  • More simply stated: prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food sources, that promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut.2

Dietary sources of prebiotics:

Potential health benefits of prebiotics:

Probiotic defined

  • Probiotic is defined as, “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit to the host”. 1
  • More simply stated: probiotics are active cultures or “good” bacteria that help keep gut microbiota in balance and healthy.2

Dietary sources of probiotics:

  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Kimchi (Korean spicy cabbage)
  • Tempeh, soy sauce, miso
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir (fermented milk beverage)
  • Aged-cheese

Potential health benefits of probiotics:

  • Reduced body fat
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Reduce fasting blood glucose levels
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Decrease fat accumulation in liver1,3

Nutrition Recommendations:

  • Meghan Jardine offers the following nutrition recommendations to help promote a healthy gut microbiota:
    • Increase daily fiber intake to at least 25-38 grams per day
      • 5-20 grams of this should come from prebiotic sources
      • Gradually increase fiber intake to avoid gas, bloating and abdominal cramps
    • Increase intake of plant-based foods
    • Reduce intake of animal proteins
    • Add fermented foods to diet
      • Over-the-counter probiotic products, while generally recognized as safe, may not contain optimal strains for improving health outcomes. More research is needed in this area.1

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