Countless products on shelves and in grocery store fridges boast high levels of probiotics in them. A massive number of products also extol the virtues of their fiber content as a support for well-being. Combining the two results in a food item or supplement with prebiotic ingredients, or ingredients that possess both a probiotic and a source of food or sustenance for beneficial bacteria. What is it about probiotics and prebiotics that reduces inflammatory biomarkers and supports efforts to move toward improved health and longevity? The answer lies in the synergistic mechanisms of both fiber and probiotics.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics is the term given to describe living bacterial and yeast-based colonies that are considered beneficial to human digestion and gut health. While probiotics may seem to be somewhat recent additions to the health and wellness scene, say within the past ten years or so, probiotics have been around for thousands of years, most often in the form of fermented foods. Although probiotic is a fairly common term nowadays, those unfamiliar with the word may have heard of healthy bacteria.
The word probiotics actually applies to many different types of bacteria and fungi that can be found in the gut, in fermented foods, and in probiotic supplements. The most common probiotic supplementation culprits said to aid in digestive health and overall improvements to human health are lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, bifidobacterium, and saccharomyces boulardii.
Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can be used to help restore healthy bacterial populations in the gut once an imbalance has developed. If an imbalance has not occurred, probiotic supplementation can be used to maintain balance and prevent damage to the gut microbiome. Because a healthy level of bacteria is essential for the GI tract to function, from converting simple sugars to short chain fatty acids, to effectively extracting and distributing nutrients, probiotics can be a vital source of support for a healthy and well-functioning microbiome.
In addition to maintaining digestive health, beneficial bacteria may be used to help improve digestive health and treat GI-related conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic or acute diarrhea, and inflammatory bowel disease (IMD). According to the National Institutes Of Health systematic review and meta-analysis, probiotics are an exciting and promising intervention for a host of conditions, some of them directly related to the gut microbiome, and some of them only tangentially related.
Probiotic supplementation with lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and other bacteria has even shown promise recently as a remedy used in conjunction with antibiotics, to counteract many of the common side effects of antibiotics, including diarrhea and upset stomach. By maintaining stability in the digestive tract, probiotics can help reduce the damage incurred by antibiotics, and ensure that so-called "bad bacteria" do not rapidly multiply and overwhelm the gut.
What Are Dietary Fibers?
Dietary fibers are a specific type of carbohydrate that can alternately be identified as the indigestible or unabsorbable parts of the foods that we consume as part of a healthy diet in any basic journal of nutrition. Dietary fibers pass through the stomach, intestine, and colon intact, without being completely broken down. That fiber is then able to help bind stool to regulate bowel movements, and can even be a source of food for beneficial bacteria.
There are two different types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber mixes with food and creates a gel-like material, while insoluble fiber does not dissolve and instead helps food move through the digestive system and makes stool bulky. Both prove the value of adequate dietary fiber intake, because they help reduce the likelihood of overpopulated bad bacteria in the gut, and maintain a steadily-working digestive system for obese women, people of a standard weight, and everyone in between.
Benefits of Dietary Fibers
According to the United States National Institute of Health, dietary fibers are beneficial for digestive health, because they help improve bowel health and promote consistent bowel movements. The soluble fiber found in flaxseed, beans, and oats have all been linked to reductions in cholesterol and a subsequent improvement in heart health. Both types of fiber have also been linked to a reduction in inflammation and blood pressure in the diet, and are an essential part of a balanced diet.
Adequate dietary fiber intake has also been linked to ideal blood sugar levels, and may even help maintain healthy body weight. This is thought to be, in large part, due to the consistency of bowel movements that is developed in response to appropriate fiber intake, and the improvements to digestive health that ensure a healthy immune system is in place, that all waste and toxins are removed from the body, and that food is being properly digested and utilized. This is true of obese women, women of a healthy or standard weight, and every other size and shape in between; dietary fiber is essential for all diets and backgrounds.
How Do Probiotics and Fiber Work Together to Support Your Overall Health?
Probiotic supplementation and fiber supplementation can work synergistically to improve the health of your intestinal tract, alleviating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and more serious conditions such as colitis, as well as relieving general ill effects such as gas, abdominal pain, and other issues that negatively impact gastrointestinal health. Food science and technology have demonstrated that probiotics improve gut health (and overall human health), while fiber adds bulk to the stool and helps support regular bowel movements. When combined, they offer a powerhouse of health benefits because human health resides largely within the gut, and promoting gastrointestinal health can help support overall human health in immeasurable ways, as increasing numbers of studies can attest.
The beneficial effects of probiotics also can rely upon fiber; because some fibers are considered indigestible substances in food science and nutrition, they provide food for bacteria in the gut. This is called prebiotic fiber, and is essential to support the ongoing health and growth of beneficial bacteria--which, in turn, has been linked to improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors, improved mental health, and reductions in inflammatory biomarkers linked to coronary heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer therapy, as the center for cancer research determined.
Foods That Are Good Sources of Probiotics and Fiber
Fermented foods are going to be the foods with the most significant number of probiotics and probiotic colonies. More common examples might include yogurt, cottage cheese, miso soup, and sauerkraut, but can also include many traditional dishes from around the world, and can be found in unexpected places, like the buttermilk in your fridge. Fermented foods are a staple in most traditional diets, and no matter which dietary heritage you claim, you are likely to have some type of probiotic-rich food available. to you.
Legumes, cruciferous vegetables, and whole grains are among the most common types of fiber-rich foods. Fleshy fruits such as apples are also rich sources of fiber. This is often where the interplay between diet and gut health resides: consuming a varied diet, with plenty of different sources of fiber and probiotics. A fiber and probiotic rich snack, for instance, might be broccoli doused in a homemade yogurt dip. Yogurt and fruit can also provide both fiber and probiotics. The potential health benefits of combining both of these range from the immediate, obvious improvements (think improved stomach acid and more efficient digestion), to the more obscure (improvements to CVS health, colonic health, and improved metabolic health).
Although you may combine probiotics and fiber in your food items, it can be easier to reap the benefits of both substances--think reductions in illness, reductions in metabolic syndrome risk, and reductions in heart disease risk--when taking a supplement that combines them both with food hydrocolloids to ensure the benefits remain intact until they reach your gut (often called prebiotic fiber). Supplements can also be useful when dietary restrictions are in place, including a high-fat diet, a FODMAP diet, or a diet avoiding specific types of food, such as grain-free, dairy-free, vegan, and gluten free diets.
Supplements for Additional Probiotic and Fiber Intake
While you can certain improve abdominal pain and other GI-specific issues (and your risk of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, and more) by implementing more probiotic-rich and fiber-rich foods into your diet according to a systematic review and meta-analysis on the topic, it can also be helpful to include supplements to improve your intake of these components in your daily or weekly routine. The interplay between diet and health is immense, but supplements can help shore up some deficiencies or areas of additional need.
You can use a separate fiber supplement and probiotic supplement, as most clinical trials evaluating efficacy focus on separate supplementation, but combining fiber with probiotic supplementation allows you to get the best of both worlds in a single dose. Our fiber and probiotic supplement does just that, with prebiotic ingredients that deliver both a dose of fiber and a dose of beneficial bacteria.
Probiotic supplementation and fiber supplementation are both often given plenty of attention in a systematic review and meta-analysis of both, but there may not be enough attention given to the benefits of fiber and probiotics taken in tandem, often referred to as prebiotic ingredients within probiotic capsules and powders. Plenty of clinical trials have focused on probiotics, and plenty of others have focused on the benefits of fiber, but not as many have demonstrated the value for people of all backgrounds and desired outcomes--obese women, people with heart disease, people with gastrointestinal disorders, and those simply looking to improve their gut health.
Probiotics are enormously valuable in clinical trials and in practical applications to improve gut health, repopulate gut bacteria, and support healthy GI function. Fiber is vital to make sure bowels are moving regularly and efficiently, in order to remove waste material from the body. Used in tandem, fiber supplements and probiotic supplements can support healthy gut function by supporting gut health and supporting gut function simultaneously.