Pre- and Pro-biotics: A Symbiotic Balance

Our gut is often referred to as a second brain.  It communicates with our brain, and can greatly affect the quality and efficiency of our brain and other bodily functions.  This is referred to as the gut-brain axis.”  In fact, many of your hormones are produced in the gut as well as in the brain.  For example, 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, which ironically contributes to feelings of happiness, appetite and sleep.  This can partly explain why we may feel happy, satisfied and tired after eating.

The healthy bacteria in our gut create an enclosed system called the “microbiome.”  The health of our microbiome is dependent on eating a healthy diet to maintain the beneficial bacteria and keep bacterial overgrowth or harmful bacteria out.  

The result of an unhealthy microbiome is called dysbiosis, and can lead to an increase in inflammatory cells and other issues.  This in turn can lead to effects such as poor thinking and memory, skin problems, poor immune defense, poor digestion (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc), and even bad breath!

So, how do we maintain a healthy microbiome?  We need to supply our body with healthy bacteria, and we also need to maintain that bacteria by feeding them!  Yes, I am serious, we need to not only eat for our own sustenance, but for our bacteria as well!  

I suspect your next question will be, “how do we know we are feeding the right bacteria, and not promoting the growth of bad gut bacteria?”  This is accomplished with what is known as a  prebiotic.  According to research, a prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that will feed only the beneficial bacteria in our gut flora. How cool is that?! 

Prebiotics, based off of this research, are “only bifidogenic, non-digestible oligosaccharides (particularly inulin), its hydrolysis product oligofructose, and (trans)galactooligosaccharides.”  There has also been other talk that resistant starches such as glutamine, are possible prebiotics, but still require more research to be confirmed (1).

If none of those words made any sense to you, here is a list of common foods that contain those big words listed above: onions, jerusalem artichoke, and fruits and vegetables high in soluble fiber (sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, turnips, mango, avocados, strawberries, apricots) (2).

Note:  If you have IBS or bloating and gas more regularly, then you will not do well with a pre-biotic while dealing with a digestive issue.  This is because when bacteria break down food their waste is our flatulence.  If you have too many bacteria and begin feeding them more then the amount of flatulence produced will be greater, thus more discomfort.

If you currently do not have any major gut problems, then incorporating prebiotics into your diet regularly will be excellent for the maintenance of your gut health.

If you are trying to eat a low-carb diet, then pre-biotic supplementation is a great alternative.

Remember! A pro-biotic is useless unless you are feeding the bacteria you are adding to your system!  This is why pre-biotics are so important.


Probiotics literally means ‘for life’, and are the actual bacteria required for maintaining a healthy gut.  Like everything in life, nothing lives forever, which is why it is important to consistently consume probiotics.  You can consume certain foods daily to keep the bacterial population high and strong.  Some food sources include: kefir, yogurt (be careful you are not buying yogurt with artificial sweeteners!), and fermented foods and beverages such as kim chi, sauerkraut, ginger beer, or kombucha.  

If you choose to consume your probiotic via supplements, then the daily intake will be dependent on the products recommendation.  I generally recommend people to not be on the same probiotic for long periods of time.  Switching brands will allow for different dosages of each bacterial strain, and some brands will contain strains that others do not.  Be sure to check to see if the probiotic also contains prebiotics.  If it does then you can opt to decrease your dietary intake of prebiotic foods, especially if they make you bloated.

If you suspect you are suffering from a chronic health issue you should consult a health care professional.  Battling gut bacterial issues can be a delicate process that can differ from patient to patient.  When to consider talking to a health care professional: 1. If you have poor food digestion (including but not limited to bloating, irregular bowel function or bowel movements) 2. skin conditions such as acne, eczema, or dermatitis 3. nasal congestion or bad breath.

Professor Loren Cordain suggests that if you feel you are eating adequate amounts of fruits and veggies every day, but still feel constipated you should follow these steps below:

-Probiotics: between 6-9 billion bacteria/day during one month, then cut down to 4-5 billion.

-Prebiotics: 4-6 grams a day during one month (if you do not improve with 4 grams increase up to 6 grams). Then cut down to 2 grams a day.

-Coconut oil (a good source of Medium Chain Fatty Acids): a tablespoon per day.

Happy bacteria feeding :)

-Dr Vanessa Nordin, CFSV Health/Lifestyle Coach, Positive Motion Health