Study highlights the importance of diverse gut microbiota in gastrointestinal health

By now, you’re familiar with probiotic foods that increase the number of beneficial bacteria living in your gastrointestinal system. However, you may not be aware of the related “prebiotics,” which provide gut microbiota with the nutrition they need to flourish.

An article in the Sanford Burnham Prebys news page explained the importance of pairing up probiotic foods with prebiotic counterparts. The combination of these foods will maximize the health of your gut and the microorganisms that live there.

A prebiotic food must resist digestion until it reaches the colon. Once there, it will be broken down into carbohydrates by hungry probiotic bacteria.

In exchange for this nutrition, the probiotics perform functions that benefit their host. The good bacteria help the colon work better, prevent inflammation from taking place in the vulnerable gut, and stop pathogens from infecting the sensitive gastrointestinal system.

Examples of prebiotic foods include bananas, chicory root, garlic, and onion. Eating a small amount of these foods every day is enough to power the probiotic processes that support gut health. (Related: Potatoes GOOD for diabetics? Study finds prebiotic from potatoes actually reduces insulin resistance.)

Ayurvedic medicinal herbs tested for prebiotic benefits

A recent study conducted by the University of California San Diego (UCSD) took a look at the prebiotic potential of licorice, slippery elm, and Triphala. These three herbs play prominent roles in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient medicinal system practiced in India.

The researchers pointed out the lack of scientific literature on the effectiveness of these medicinal herbs as prebiotic food for gut bacteria. They hoped to determine the effect of these herbs on the growth and numbers of the hundreds of bacterial strains that live in the gastrointestinal system.

Their study group consisted of 12 healthy participants from both genders. They were all in middle-age and either vegetarian (avoids eating meat) or vegan (avoids all animal products).

The participants provided fecal samples before the start of the intervention. The samples underwent analysis regarding their bacterial population.

They were then supplemented with licorice, slippery elm, and Triphala. Later samples were evaluated for any changes following the herbal supplementation.

Licorice, slippery elm, and Triphala are great prebiotic supplements

“We were surprised at the extent and complexity of the changes in the gut microbiota composition,” said lead researcher Scott Peterson of the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. “And the species most positively impacted by the herbal supplements were predominantly species with documented health-promoting qualities.”

Peterson and his team found that licorice, slippery elm, and Triphala affected up to one-third of the strains found in the gut. The herbal medicines raised the population of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Bacteroides.

At the same time, the three herbs also lowered the numbers of other bacteria species. It was noted that pathogenic strains like Citrobacter freundii (which causes opportunistic infections) and Klebsiella pneumoniae (a pneumonia-causing bacteria) counted among the suppressed microorganisms.

Furthermore, the herbal medicines caused population explosions for bacteria that produced butyrate and propionate. The latter chemicals are esters, small salts that are used to make important acids.

Slippery elm and Triphala treatment induced the greatest improvement in butyrate-producing bacteria. Licorice was the one that spurred the population bloom of propionate-producing species.

The researchers concluded that these medicinal herbs possessed potential as prebiotics. Furthermore, they believe that prebiotics and herbs could be combined to form natural medicines for various diseases.

A prebiotic concoction that could subdue inflammation would be invaluable for treating gut diseases and related disorders. It could be used to treat inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and even Type 2 diabetes. can tell you more about the right prebiotics to boost your probiotic health.

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