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Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Let's talk pre, pro and psychobiotics

Before we get to the guts of it, we want you to take an immunity shot every time we use the word ‘gut’ in this article (just kidding – everything in moderation, but you get the idea).

The gut (otherwise known as the gastrointestinal tract) is essentially a long pipe that starts at the mouth, continues to the stomach, small and large intestines, and ends at the anus. Gut microbiota (micro-organisms that are mainly bacteria) live in the gut and good diversity is linked to good gut health. Some key areas that the gut has a direct effect on include…

  • Immunity: Over 70% of immune cells are in the gut – gut bacteria help these immune cells identify bad bacteria
  • Appetite: Gut bacteria influence the hormones that govern satiety
  • Weight: Gut microbiome diversity and high-fibre intake are related to lower long-term weight gain
  • Gut-brain axis: The gut produces 95% of the serotonin in our bodies, also known as the feel-good chemical (you can read more about the gut-brain axis in this blog post)

Each of us has a unique gut microbiota makeup; it’s as individual as our fingerprints. Due to this, there’s no agreed-upon measure of a healthy gut as we’re all different, but what is agreed upon is what causes a healthy versus an unhealthy environment for the gut – which brings us to prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and psychobiotics (all of which foster a healthy environment for the gut).

Prebiotics

Prebiotics can’t be digested – they’re types of fibre that act as food for the friendly bacteria in the digestive system – Taking probiotics without prebiotics is useless, they need each other for maximum effect.

Foods high in prebiotics include oats, onion, garlic, celery, sweet potato, leek, watermelon and psyllium husks – for a prebiotics powerhouse meal, look no further than cauliflower and leek soup. Prebiotic fibre also adds bulk to the stool, which makes for easy elimination – another key component that leads to good gut health.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live micro-organisms (beneficial bacteria) that can be found in certain foods and supplements – they increase the good bacteria in your gut. Some probiotic-rich foods include kefir, yoghurt, and kimchi. Probiotics regulate the immune system and secrete anti-microbial substances (bust the bad bacteria).

Postbiotics

Postbiotics are the result of prebiotics and postbiotics – they’re what the two, acting together, produce. When probiotics feed on prebiotics, postbiotics are made (how cool is that!).

While you can’t really consume postbiotics in food, you can buy them in supplements – but the best way to go about it is to follow a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics.

Psychobiotics

Psychobiotics is a relatively new term that refers to prebiotics and probiotics that have anti-anxiety and anti-depressive effects. Another way to explain it: they’re live bacteria that when consumed, are thought to have a positive effect on mental health. Psychobiotics are related to the gut-brain axis – which is the communication between the gut and the brain (which is constant).

Taking care of our digestive health

Now, we’ve given you a lot to digest, but the good news is that you can change your gut microbiota within a few days and see improvements quickly!

Some of our hottest tips include:

  • Chew your food thoroughly – try at least six chews before you swallow
  • Focus when you’re eating – no fork in one hand, phone in the other
  • Drink calming teas – chamomile, fennel, peppermint and lemon balm
  • Exercise – getting things moving helps peristalsis (muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract)
  • Increasing fibre – foods with at least 4g fibre per serve are considered a good source of fibre

Diet is the main factor that influences the gut microbiota, however, there are some other lifestyle factors that play a role in gut health — the big one? Stress.

Stress has an effect on gut motility and can actually change the gut microbial composition. Stress also sends distress signals to the gut and can provoke more inflammation.

We’ve given you plenty to chew on, but if you’d like to take a bigger bite why not check out some of our other blogs on gut health: Why Diversity is Key for Gut Health, Four underrated star foods for gut health, and The role of probiotics and resistant starch for healthy ageing.

Interested in Nutrition?

How does your gut health – your secret superpower—affect your weight, mental health and immunity? Find out more about Gut Health: the microbiome and wellbeing, one of our Nutrition Short Courses.

"Overall, all resources provided, particularly links to short articles related to the topic addressed, are very interesting and useful to deepen one’s knowledge."

- Federica Conti