The low-down prebiotics and probiotics

Hear a lot about prebiotics and probiotics but have no idea what they are, or why they are so important? Red Seal naturopath Julie Fergusson explains. 

Naturopathic medicine focuses a lot of attention on the digestive system, believing that a healthy digestion is the fundamental foundation to a healthy body. The bacteria in our gut are complex and constantly changing and informing our immune system so that we can live in harmony. However our western diet, medications such as antibiotics and NSAIDs, stress, sugar, pesticides, alcohol, gluten, GMO’s and lack of sleep can destroy this balance within us.

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Our intestincal tract controls about 70 per cent of our immune system yet often gets overlooked. The gut is a complex and changing environment with hundreds of different bacteria; some of them do helpful things like break down carbohydrates in the intestine and produce infection-fighting antibodies and vitamins, while other destructive bacteria secrete toxins and promote disease. Overall, the gut is key to our immune system.

In healthy guts the good bacteria outnumber the bad and when this is in balance, we are not even aware of the role that they do. However, when the bad out numbers the good we can have issues such as fungal infections, stomach upsets, constipation, diarrhoea, eczema, and flatulence. There are two important things we need to help keep our intestinal tract robust – Prebiotics and Probiotics.


are like a fertiliser for the good bacteria to thrive upon. They are indigestible fibre that helps to create a good environment in the gut and cleanses the body by helping to keep our bowel motions regular. Prebiotics are found naturally in a number of foods; asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions, beans, chickpeas, lentils and supplementary fibres such as psyllium, pectin, guar gum and slippery elm.


. Although we are still learning and identifying the role of the good bacteria in our body and the part that they play, these bacteria are not just restricted to the intestinal tract but also populate the bladder, bowel, mouth, lungs and other parts of the body. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most common probiotic bacteria and there are a number of strains in each of these families. Our western modern diet has unfortunately managed to process out the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria in many foods, while at the same time feeding harmful bacteria with a feast of processed starches and sugars. In contrast most traditional cultures have some form of fermented food that keep our bacterial balanced. We need regular intake of these fermented foods to ensure the balance. These include yoghurts, Kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha tea and tempeh.


A recent a course of antibiotics (or other medication), overseas travel, signs of digestive imbalance,  or change of season are all good reasons to add fermented foods into your diet or take a multistrain probiotic supplement but also ensure that you are getting enough fibre into your diet.

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