What you need to know to keep your gut quiet and happy

It never fails. Just when you think you can relax, your gut starts complaining. If you’re out with friends, it might mean constantly looking for the nearest bathroom or cancelling the rest of your plans and head home to wait it out.

It might be possible to keep your gut quiet and happy by adding a combination of prebiotics and probiotics into your dietary plan.

As you know by now, your gut is made up of microorganisms that play more roles than just helping you digest that pasta you ate. There are at least 1,000 different species of bacteria living in your gut and they work together to help your boost metabolism, fight infection, and regulate mood.

Nearly two-thirds of the microorganisms living in your gut is unique to you. The food you eat, the activities you do, and the amount of stress you feel can significantly affect this balance. Some studies even say these microorganisms are influenced by your genes.

There are two ways to maintain this delicate balance:

  • Help the microbes already in your gut to grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotic)

  • Add new, living microbes directly to your system (probiotic)

You’re probably more familiar with probiotics. When nutritionists talk about probiotics, they’re generally referring to two strains of bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which are often found in fermented food like yogurt, pickles, and sauerkraut. Probiotics became mainstream in the US when Danone heavily marketed Activia yogurt. That was in 2005. The brand moved the idea of probiotics into the mainstream and today, choosing foods high in probiotics has become second nature for many.

In recent years, a new class of microorganism has been identified as prebiotics. These microorganisms are made up of complex carbohydrates that the body can’t digest. They feed the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria, enabling them to grow and multiply. Foods considered prebiotics include asparagus, garlic, onions, barley, oats, and flaxseed.

Recently, a growing number of studies have shown that prebiotics, when added to infant formula, were found to make the formula more closely resemble the health content of breastmilk, improving infants’ ability to build their immune system.

A food source that contains both prebiotics and probiotics is called a “synbiotic.” Foods that are synbiotics include cheese, kefir, and certain types of yogurt. When part of an IBS dietary plan, it’s known as “microbiome therapy.” A growing number of studies are being done on microbiome therapies and the results have been exciting, promising new hope for those suffering from IBS, allergies, and even inflammatory arthritis.

When starting with a microbiome therapy, there may be some side effects that you’ll initially feel but these eventually dissipates. Improving the health of your microbiome may significantly reduce your IBS symptoms and help quiet your gut. While both probiotics and prebiotics are generally safe, it’s still important to discuss your plans with your GI healthcare team before beginning any new dietary plan.