Do you ever find yourself bewildered by the buzzwords surrounding digestive health? Probiotics, prebiotics, antacids, digestive enzymes, and wonder drugs like Ozempic—these terms get tossed around like magic solutions to all our dietary woes. Let's break down these five categories and demystify the world of digestive health.
Probiotics – The Gardeners of Your Gut are all around
Probiotics, the superheroes of bacteria, are indeed the bee's knees. However, the richest source of probiotic diversity lies in whole, fresh fruits, vegetables, and naturally fermented foods. Think real yogurt, tempeh, natto, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and even cheeses. These foods offer a microbial symphony that no lab-created supplement can match. Even an apple's skin and a dried blade of seaweed can be probiotic havens with species of Lactobacillus and 100's more aplenty; making natural and organic sources crucial for reaping the full benefits.
When we have lived for too long on foods devoid of a rich microbiota for our guts, or even shot them all down with too many antibiotics - there might be a time and place for probiotic supplements. Even down below in the pioneering world of fecal transplants, improvements have been made to lives. But the easiest and safest path forwards is eat them with our food. Indeed the food carries the microbiota that are the best fermenters for that food.
Prebiotics – The Nourishment for Your Gut Buddies in big doses
More important for you to focus on are the prebiotics, found mostly in the fibre and polyphenolics of plants, although animal connective tissue has uniqe fibres as well. Fibre and polyphenolics serve as the fuel for your probiotics, keeping these beneficial bacteria happily fermenting away and protecting you most precious and powerful barrier to the world - you gut mucosa. Aim for 30-100g of prebiotic-rich foods daily, a challenge given the chronically low fiber intake in Western diets. Consider boosting your intake with seaweed which is the king of dietary fibre, ensuring it's not the high-iodine variety when consumed in abundance. This is where PhycoHealth's range of food and supplements is clincially tested to bring you more if you are just not getting enough of it from the supermarket.
Our clincial studies* show that without even touching probiotics, prebiotic fibre from our seaweed can boost and modulate the gut microbiome, primarily with species of Bifidobacteria, Akkermansia, Pseudobutyrivibrio increasing in the blinded supplements groups versus the control groups of overweight and obese participants. Further this was linked to improving the regulation of metabolic challenges related to diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as inflammation.
Antacids – A Fire Dousing Friend in Need
Antacids are fantastic for dousing the flames of reflux or heartburn. However, remember that your stomach's acidity is a key player in digestion and acts as a protective barrier against harmful pathogens. While antacids provide relief during episodes of reflux, frequent use may disrupt the stomachs natural pH balance, potentially leading to gut infections. Save these relief warriors for when truly needed, acknowledging their vital role in specific health conditions. Focus on a fibre rich, regular and not to late set of meals in the day.
Digestive Enzymes – Nature's Culinary Assistants
Our bodies and the probiotic bacteria in a healthy gut naturally produce an array of digestive enzymes. The enzymes that we produce ourselves include amylase that breaks down starch, lipase handles oils, protease for the proteins of course, and lactase is active in many of us except those of us who are lactose intolerant. These enzymes work in harmony to extract energy and nutrients. In a well-rounded diet with diverse foods and fermented delights, there's typically no need for additional enzyme supplements unless a specific deficiency is diagnosed. The most sophisticated suite of digestive enzymes comes from a healthy microbiome that works with you to deliver the most diverse set possible. This is what the probiotics are for. Once again - outside of interventions of medical need, it would be difficult for the delivery of an enzyme drug to replace what 100s of enzyme interactions in a healthy gut can do.
Wonder Drugs – Unveiling the Irony
Enter wonder drugs like Ozempic, inspired by our own gut hormones and enzymes such as GLP-1 which interacts with leptin and ghrelin to manage your apetite and energy systems from digestion, including relationships to inflammation - you already make these in a healthy gut and more is not better under normal circumstances. Importantly, there are multiple, highly complex and sensistive network interactions between what you eat and how your body modulates digestive hormones and your metabolism. Indeed, this complex system is best left to steer itself with the right foods and lifestyle. How on earth we could ever pilot this system anywhere near as well as the sensitive network itself, by a simplistic bombardement of drugs, is a big ask. However, if we do, as we have, taken on a lifestyle of poor food choices and availability, then maybe sometimes there is an opportunity for a rapid intervention.
The irony lies in the Western diet's lack of fiber and plant nutrients, contributing to a vicious spiral of health issues including a loss of production of these types of enzymes and hormones. These medications address deficiencies resulting from poor gut health, inflammation, and chronic diseases like diabetes. So prioritizing preventive measures through a nourishing lifestyle is key.
The Straight Shooting Approach to Digestive Bliss
In conclusion, the key to digestive well-being lies in eating real foods, wholefoods, not too much, mostly plants, and we say add some seaweed. There is no rocket science today that can compete with the millions of years of microbiome, plant and animal interactions. Combine this with good sleep, regular exercise, and meaningful social connections - everyday, every week, for life.
So, let's raise a fermented bread slice, share some fermented foods, and sprinkle in a bit of seaweed for good measure. Here's to a happy and harmonious gut!
*If you want to read the clincial literature check it out here. Roach, Meyer, Fitton and Winberg, 2022.