Benefits Of Probiotics And Prebiotics For Weight Loss And Type 2 Diabetes

It’s only been recently that doctors, including endocrinologists, have realized the starring role gut microbes play in our health.

The unique blend of intestinal bacteria that each of us carries is responsible for a variety of systemic functions. For example, it supports the immune system, regulates intestinal hormone secretions, and helps manufacture vitamin K, and some B vitamins.

Research suggests that our gut microbes, or microbiome is also involved in the development of type 2 diabetes. It appears that some microbes entering our system form inflammatory toxins that can affect the liver and fat cells. This may alter a person’s overall metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Each person’s unique blend of gut bacteria is based primarily on four factors:

  1. Genetic inheritance.
  2. Age.
  3. Our diet.
  4. Exposure to antibiotics.

While we can limit our exposure to antibiotics, it’s through our daily dietary choices that we exercise the most influence over the health of our microbiome. We can, for instance, make an effort to consume an adequate amount of probiotics, and prebiotics:

  • Probiotics are the live microbes that dwell inside our gastrointestinal tract. They aid primarily by keeping our digestive pipes clean. We can replenish these microbes by eating fermented foods that contain live microorganisms, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements.
  • However, the probiotics we consume only give us a small portion of the live microbes our gut requires. It’s also necessary to provide our microbiome with the food it needs to thrive and multiply.
  • Prebiotics are un-digestible plant fibers that pass through the small intestine to the large intestine—where our microbes can feed on them. Prebiotics serve as a rich fertilizer that allows good gut bacteria to flourish and reproduce. All high fiber plant foods, such as leafy greens, berries, and celery are prebiotics, but the most nutrient-rich prebiotic foods are:
  • Bran (e.g., oat, wheat, rice).
  • Asparagus, cabbage, and artichokes.
  • Bananas, and apples.
  • Garlic, onions, and leeks.
  • Beans, and legumes.
  • Root veggies (e.g., sweet potatoes, squash, beets, carrots, parsnips).

Eating plenty of prebiotic produce not only reduces the inflammation associated with type 2 diabetes, it also helps the immune system ward of infections, leaves us feeling full and satisfied longer after meals, and facilitates weight loss.

Prebiotics: Preventing Obesity and Type 2

The importance of prebiotics for diabetes prevention and weight management was revealed in a study involving 42 children, aged 7 to 12 who were diagnosed as overweight or obese. The children were randomly assigned to either receive a once daily prebiotic supplement (powdered fiber mixed with water), or a once daily placebo. No other lifestyle changes were required.

After four months, those on the fiber supplement showed specific shifts in their gut bacteria, and trial data revealed their annual projected body weight increase would be in the normal range, about 6.6 pounds. The projected annual body weight increase for the placebo group was almost three times greater.

This study highlights the restorative effects of getting adequate dietary plant fiber, and reminds us that eating too many fiber-deficient processed foods puts our children’s, and our own health at risk. Even when kids are picky eaters, and wrinkle their noses at many prebiotic foods, they are still influenced by lifestyle choices the adults around them make each day.

Sources: Cleveland Clinic; One Green Planet; Prebiotin; Science Daily
Photo credit: Jason Rogers

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