Monday, May 24, 2010

Defining Prebiotics & Their Relation to Probiotics

According to recent research from the "Paleobiotics Lab" (just love that name...what a conversation starter!), our ancestors ten thousand years ago, in the Chihuahuan Desert, consumed more than 100 grams of special fibers each day, mostly from agave and sotol plants. Those special fibers are now called prebiotics. Ah, the modern art of ancient stool sampling.

So what did all those prebiotics do for our ancestors? To quote Marcel Roberfroid, who discovered prebiotics:

"A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health."

Simply stated, prebiotics support the growth of friendly bacteria. More specifically, prebiotics nourish bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria, which support healthy digestion (including mineral absorption) and improved immune system function. With more friendly bacteria, the gut also produces more short-chain fatty acids, which strengthen the colon's walls.

While many fibers offer some level of probiotic support, two fructooligosaccharides are the all-star players: oligofructose and inulin. Who knew that the former (oligofructose) ferments in the right side of the colon while the latter (inulin) ferments more slowly in the left side of the colon? 

Foods high in these two all-star prebiotics are: raw Chicory Root, Jerusalem Artichoke, Dandelion Greens, Garlic, Leeks, Onions, and Asparagus. "Raw" is the operative word here.

Recommended daily allowance has hovered been 4-8 grams of prebiotics per day for basic digestive needs, increasing to 15 grams for acute digestive troubles. The recent Paleobiotics Lab research, however, challenges conventional wisdom; and it appears that we moderns should be supplementing with prebiotics given our woefuly inadequate, low-fiber diets.

I wonder if it's time to add a "Prebiotics" product to our catalog. My biochemistry friends say that certain populations (often from Central Europe) have trouble with prebiotic fibers (unable to absorb "fructans").

Yet, with the critical need to boost probiotics for most people, my hunch is that prebiotics would be an important product for us to consider, even though it's not at the top of our most-requested new products list!

Drop a line if you have used prebiotics and have thoughts about this category of product.

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