Gut Microbiome, Probiotics and Prebiotics

Gut Microbiome, Probiotics and Prebiotics

The human body is home to trillions of friendly bacteria which lead a peaceful co existent life within us. The major organ system which is the home to most of these bacteria and is well studied and being understood as the seat of good health is the intestine or the Gut. Collectively they are called as the gut microbiome. The importance of the gut bacteria starts right from the moment of childbirth until death. The first set of bacteria comes from the mother during normal birth and subsequently through breast milk and later through the food. Breast milk not only provides the bacteria but also food for the bacteria to grow within our intestines through carbohydrate molecules called Human milk oligosaccharides. These are called Prebiotics. During life the need to maintain these good bacteria is very essential to keep away the bad infection causing bacteria and to help our immune system to respond appropriately- not too much that may cause allergy or chronic inflammation nor too little to permit infectious bacteria to enter the body. 

Our food is a very good source of prebiotic substances present in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Fermented products like curd or Dosa/ Idli batter or Dokla etc are good for digestion but the bacteria or yeast that are used for fermentation or naturally present in them, may not have probiotic properties. The bacteria in them get destroyed while cooking and even if fermented foods are consumed cold, the bacteria in them do not survive in our digestive system. Probiotic bacteria can be added to a range of foods or consumed as such. These will reach our intestines and stay and multiply to make our gut healthy. Our diets should contain a combination of pre and probiotics. Highly processed, low fiber and easily digestible carbohydrates will not help our gut bacteria to flourish and may lead to a disturbed gut and make us prone to several disorders. Our traditional diets have been rich sources of prebiotics and some probiotics as well. Recent studies have also found that the Gut bacteria ferment the prebiotics and other forms of indigestible carbohydrates in the intestines to produce molecules that are like neurotransmitter molecules in the brain. This appears to be the way in which the intestine communicates to the brain. Good diets, good bacteria may also influence our thoughts, behavior and neurological health. Probiotics are an important component of preventive health. They are also used as adjuvants to treatment of some diseases and being explored as alternatives to antibiotics. 

Traditional region specific wholesome balanced diets and judicious use of prebiotics and probiotics will go a long way to protect us from several serious ailments.


About the Author:
Dr. B Sesikeran
Former Director, National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR)

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