There’s so much hype in the media at the moment about the importance of gut health and the benefits of probiotics, and rightly so given shift workers gastrointestinal systems are under a great deal of distress thanks to a lifestyle which encompasses continual circadian rhythm misalignment.
When you add a poor diet into the mix, as in one which is made up predominantly of fast food and takeaways which let’s face it, is an all too common scenario for anyone working 24/7, it can disrupt the delicate balance of our intestinal microbiota even further. This can lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, constipation, dysbiosis – to name a few!
Which is where prebiotics come into play.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” In other words, they help to keep the digestive tract in tip top shape and functioning well. Two of the most well known and prescribed probiotic strains of bacteria include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, which have shown to be beneficial in treating conditions such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
Taking a probiotic supplement however, along with including foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea and kefir into your diet (which is all the rage these days!) – does not guarantee these beneficial bacteria will thrive.
They need help – in the form of prebiotics.
Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre found in plant foods which are unable to be digested, and function as food for the beneficial bacteria.
Food for the bacteria. They literally help to create an environment which stimulates the growth of good bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, which we now know are incredibly important in the maintenance and restoration of a healthy gut microbiome.
So if your diet does not include adequate amounts of undigestible or fermentable fibre, all of those healthy bacteria in your gut which are needed to stimulate nutrient metabolism (such as vitamin K and a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate); improve gut barrier function and host immunity; help in the metabolism of drugs; along with preventing the colonization of pathogenic microorganisms – are unable to survive.
In other words, prebiotics, or undigestible dietary fibre is absolutely crucial for gut health.
Even more so if you’re a shift worker prone to gastrointestinal disturbances and a depleted immune system, which pretty much includes every single shift worker I know!
Foods are regarded as being a prebiotic if they are able to:
- Resist gastric acidity and absorption in the upper gastrointestinal tract
- Become fermented by the intestinal microflora
- Stimulate the growth and/or activity of good intestinal bacteria
Foods high in prebiotic fibre include bananas, berries, dandelion greens, oats, legumes, beans peas, leeks, asparagus, onions and garlic.
So remember not to focus all your energy on probiotics – particularly if you’re taking them in supplement form. If your diet contains little fibre needed to feed these probiotics, then not only will you be unable to reap the benefits, but you will essentially be throwing away your hard earned cash which you’ve worked so incredibly hard for – including regularly getting up at “stupid o’clock” or from working through the night.
Some (prebiotic) food for thought!
Chronoceuticals 2016, The health benefits of prebiotics, <https://chronoceuticals.com/health-benefits-prebiotics/>.
Jandhyala, S, Talukdar, R, Subramanyam, C, Vuyyuru, H, Sasikala, M, Reddy, D 2015, ‘Role of the normal gut microbiota’, World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 21, no. 29, pp. 8787-8803, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528021/
Slavin, J 2015, ‘Fiber and prebiotics: Mechanisms and health benefits’, Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 1417-1435, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705355/>