Digestive health is only really starting to be better understood by experts in their fields, so we are attempting to gain a better understanding ourselves, as we know there isn’t a single formula or one size fits all approach to IBS management and health management in general.
Today we’re tackling prebiotics and probiotics.
I have been under the mistaken understanding that prebiotics were similar to probiotics, but that the microorganisms assisted pre digestion rather than as part of the digestive process. If you already understand the difference between the two, you’re probably having a chuckle to yourself and that’s fair. I’d made an assumption based on the make up of the words - “pre” meaning before, “pro” meaning acting as a substitute for and “biotic” is relating to or resulting from living organisms.
But as the saying goes, never assume…
Prebiotics are in fact nondigestible fibre that stimulates the growth and/or activity of certain “good” bacteria in the large intestines. It promotes growth by providing the bacteria with a food source.
Probiotics on the other hand are “live microorganisms that are either the same as or similar to microorganisms found naturally in the human body” and are necessary for good health and digestion.
Both prebiotics and probiotics are available in supplement form, but they are also found in food sources.
Foods naturally high in prebiotics include; onion, garlic, lentils, beetroot, wheat, nectarines and cashews. Sound familiar? Yep - they’re all oligosaccharides. All foods high in oligosaccharides (fructans, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)) are high in prebiotics.
Probiotic containing foods include; dark chocolate, peas , yoghurt and fermented foods such as kefir, miso, komucha, sauerkraut and some cheeses . At the time of writing this post only dark chocolate, peas, yoghurt and the cheese identified as being made via a fermentation process has been tested for it's FODMAP content, so introduce these foods with care if you'd like to increase your probiotic intake without the use of supplements.
Great - so now I understand the difference between the two and the sources of each aside from supplements. So how is that useful for overall health and for IBS management in particular?
Probably the key out take for us is to endeavour not to exclude all oligosaccharides from our dietary intake indefinitely. Fructans are a key trigger for Ronnie’s IBS symptoms - we know this from attempting reintroduction - as such, we’ve removed from our diet all foods that show a red light for Oligos in the Monash University low FODMAP diet app. Why have we done this? If you have IBS and have experienced symptom relief by following a low FODMAP diet I suspect you already know why and feel much the same way. It’s fear. The pain, discomfort and anxiety Ronnie experiences during an attack makes us not want to risk reintroducing foods high in FOS and GOS to see if they are in fact triggers for him.
After doing the research for this post and having a clear understanding of what probiotics are and the benefits they bring, we talked at length about reintroducing FOS and GOS (in a controlled and methodical way of course) so that we may increase the amount of prebiotics we ingest and consequently give our digestive system more of the fuel it needs to positively influence gut microbiota, as well as other attributed benefits such as improved mineral absorption, improved blood glucose and insulin profiles, protection against intestinal infections  and even easing of anxiety and depression .
We know that a strict low FODMAP diet shouldn’t be adhered to indefinitely and we have reintroduced some other FODMAP groups, so when Ronnie has a couple of weeks where he can “afford” to be out of action, we may find FOS and/or GOS foods can be added in moderation to our personal menu too.