23 January 2019
Prebiotic foods like seaweed, mushrooms, beans and vegetables should be included in our diet. Photo: Reuters
Prebiotic foods like seaweed, mushrooms, beans and vegetables should be included in our diet. Photo: Reuters

Probiotics are the guts’ best friends

There are a few hundred kinds of bacteria in the human guts, including probiotics like lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Prebiotics such as oligosaccharide, dietary fibers and resistant starches, which help in the growth of probiotics, can also be found in the stomach. Yet the bacterial environment in the guts is determined by one’s lifestyle and diet and so it varies from one individual to another.

Probiotics have a lot of health benefits to offer. First of all, they provide energy. Probiotics break down prebiotics that cannot be used by the human body, producing short-chain fatty acids as energy resources for bacteria and their host.

Probiotics also promote synthesis of various vitamins and create an acidic environment to help with the absorption of minerals.

They can activate the immune cells of the host, promote the development of the immune system and regulate inflammation. They can slow down any food-related chronic hypersensitivity, autoimmune diseases and intestinal inflammation.

Research has shown that either single-strain or multi-strain probiotic or prebiotic supplements can reduce palpitations, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance and discomfort.

Probiotics also secrete substances that inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, lower the pH value in the colon and compete with gastrointestinal pathogens for nutrients.

The gastrointestinal environment becomes less favorable to pathogens in the presence of probiotics. As such, probiotics cancel out the effects of pathogens on metabolism, reduce the harm brought by free radicals and toxins, and keep intestinal epithelium intact to fight pathogenic bacteria.

One thing about intestinal bacteria that cannot be overlooked is their ability to improve intestinal secretions and the nervous system. They increase the concentration of neurotransmitters in the host’s bloodstream, including mood boosters serotonin and dopamine as well as the pacifier gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Probiotics can be obtained through a balanced diet but they are mostly found in fermented food items such as yogurt, kimchi and miso, which are better consumed at a cooler temperature in order to ensure more live probiotics.

Since prebiotics work hand in hand with probiotics, they should also be included in our diet. Oligosaccharides (e.g., whole grains, onions, bananas, garlic, leeks and honey), dietary fibers (e.g., seaweed, mushrooms, beans and vegetables) and resistant starches (e.g., unripe bananas and sweet potatoes) are all prebiotic foods.

In order to create a healthy gastrointestinal environment for probiotics, use antibiotics strictly, maintain work-life balance, avoid overeating and remain emotionally stable.

Be aware that a high-fat diet is behind the proliferation of pathogens in the guts.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 15

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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