Digestive Health

What’s the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

You probably already have some understanding of how the food you eat affects your digestion, but you may not know how much your digestion affects your health. Your gut is full of bacteria – both good and bad – that aid in the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients. More than that, however, those bacteria also play a role in various aspects of total body health and wellness including inflammation, blood sugar, cholesterol, and even mood.

As you may already know, probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can support healthy gut function. You can find them in things like yogurt and fermented foods. But what about prebiotics? How are they different and what role do they play in healthy digestion? Keep reading to find out.

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Probiotics are living organisms that help to maintain the right balance of good to bad bacteria in your gut. They keep harmful bacteria from getting out of control and triggering problems such as inflammation, infection, and gastrointestinal upset. By maintaining that balance, probiotics can also help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Prebiotics are an entirely different thing. First and foremost, they are not living organisms – they are soluble, fermentable fibers that cannot be fully digested in the stomach. Instead of breaking down completely in the stomach, prebiotic fibers move into the intestines where they become a food source for probiotics.

How to Add Them to Your Diet

Probiotics and prebiotics are two completely different things, but they both play an essential role in health and digestion, so you should get them where you can. For probiotics, naturally-occurring sources are the most beneficial, though probiotic supplements can be used to boost your intake. Some of the best food sources of probiotics include fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir – these foods are made with carbohydrates and sugars that provide nutrients for the bacteria to keep them alive long enough for your consumption.

Like probiotics, natural sources for prebiotics are the most beneficial as well. Food sources of prebiotics include things that are high in soluble fiber such as Jerusalem artichokes (you may know them as sunchokes), onion, garlic, chicory root, and beans. Food sources of resistant starch are also beneficial as prebiotics. Resistant starch is a type of fiber that is resistant to digestion by the stomach, and it can be found in foods like oats, legumes, and unripe bananas. It can also be found in cooked foods like potatoes, pasta, and rice after they have cooled.

Make Your Own Probiotic-Rich Fermented Veggies

Though you can purchase fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi at the grocery store, they may contain artificial ingredients that are best avoided. Fortunately, it is very easy to make your own fermented veggies at home, and they are an excellent source of probiotics. Here is a basic recipe for making fermented veggies that you can customize to your liking:

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium red apples, cored and chopped
  • 4 cups fresh cauliflower florets
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced into ½-inch slices
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
  • 8 tablespoons coarse sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Toss the apples, cauliflower, carrots, green onion, and celery together in a large bowl.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a large glass jar and press them down with a wooden spoon, sprinkling the sea salt as you compress the veggies.
  3. Check to make sure the mixture fills the jar no higher than 1 inch below the rim – you should also make sure the expressed liquid from the veggies covers them completely.
  4. If you need to add more liquid, make a brine using 4 cups water and 2 tablespoons sea salt – fill the jar to 1 inch below the top.
  5. Place a plate over the top of the jar to weigh down the veggies – cover with a kitchen towel, if needed, to keep out fruit flies.
  6. Set the jar in a warm place to ferment for 3 to 5 days.
  7. Check the jar once a day to make sure the brine still covers the vegetable mixture – remove any mold that forms on the surface.
  8. Start tasting the veggies after 3 days and keep fermenting until it reaches the desired taste.
  9. Cover the jar tightly with a lid and transfer to the refrigerator or pantry for storage.

Whether you choose to make your own fermented veggies or buy them at the store, probiotic foods should become a part of your regular diet. By combining these foods with natural prebiotic fibers, you can support the healthy balance of bacteria in your digestive tract for optimal health and wellness.

Understanding the Different Types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Do you suffer from frequent diarrhea or stomach pain and cramping? Have you lost weight without meaning to or has your doctor worried that you might have anemia? These are some of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that many people misunderstand. IBD can sometimes be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms overlap with other conditions and because there are several different forms of the disease.

Though the symptoms of IBD may seem inconvenient at most, leaving this condition untreated can lead to serious complications such as malnutrition, intestinal rupture, and even colon cancer. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of IBD and how to manage them.

What Are the Different Types of IBD?

Irritable bowel disease or IBD is an umbrella term for several different conditions. The two most common types of IBD are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The former is characterized by inflammation of the large intestine and typically affects the entire structure from the rectum into the colon – the inflammation may also spread into the inner lining of the colon. Crohn’s disease, on the other hand, can cause inflammation in any part of the intestinal tract and typically occurs in patches of inflamed tissue which can occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus.

Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are chronic conditions, and both are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Together, these two diseases affect roughly 3 million American adults or about 1.3% of the population.  Some of the most common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, anemia, skin reactions, and arthritis. Ulcerative colitis causes similar symptoms with the addition of rectal pain or bleeding, an urgency or inability to defecate, fever, and fatigue.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors?

Unfortunately, the exact cause of IBD remains unknown. Research has revealed a link, however, between genetics and immune system problems and the various forms of IBD. Scientists believe there is a genetic component to the disease because patients who have immediate family members with IBD develop the condition at a higher rate. They also believe that there is some immune system involvement due to the fact that inflammation occurs in the GI tract independent of any infection.

Though researchers do not fully understand the causes of IBD, they have identified certain factors which may increase your risk of developing Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. The most common risk factors include smoking, ethnicity, age, family history, geographical region, and gender. People of Caucasian and Jewish descent have a higher risk for IBD, as do people under the age of 35. Ulcerative colitis is more likely to affect men, while Crohn’s disease is more common in women. If you live in an urban or industrialized area, your risk for IBD is higher, and smoking can greatly increase your risk.

How is IBD Best Treated?

The symptoms of IBD differ in severity from one case to another, so you’ll need to talk to your doctor about the ideal form of treatment. Leaving your condition untreated could increase your risk of developing serious complications including malnutrition, dangerous weight loss, fistulas, intestinal rupture or perforation, bowel obstruction, and colon cancer. In very severe cases, IBD can cause you to go into shock, and it could be a life-threatening situation.

When it comes to treating IBD, there are a number of different options. The first step in treating IBD is usually medication with anti-inflammatory drugs such as sulfasalazine or corticosteroids. These drugs are designed to reduce inflammation in the GI tract but, unfortunately, they come with a high risk for die effects. Immunosuppressant drugs may also be prescribed, including drugs that block TNF – a chemical produced by the immune system that can trigger inflammation.

Other treatments for IBD may include antibiotics, antidiarrheal drugs, and nutritional supplements to address malnutrition or specific deficiencies. Lifestyle changes are also important for treating and managing IBD. You’ll need to keep an eye on your stress levels and exercise regularly. Quitting smoking, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding dairy products will help as well. If nothing else works, surgery may be an option to repair damage or to mitigate symptoms of IBD.

Irritable bowel syndrome, in its many forms, is not the kind of condition you want to ignore. Though symptoms may be mild at first, they can worsen, and you may find yourself saddled with serious complications such as bowel obstruction, ulcers, intestinal rupture, or even cancer. If you have experienced any symptoms of IBD, or if you have some of the risk factors, talk to your doctor today.

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