Probiotics or Prebiotics, the Great Digestion Debate.Sean Russell
As processed foods, pharmaceuticals and bad diet have clogged up our digestive tracts we have turned a blind eye to proper digestion. Our medical professions continue to increase the ‘normal’ bowel movement times now up to around 3 days. Well, many continue to debate that a bowel movement should be daily and digestion should be smooth, and I am one of them.
First, lets talk about what is considered ‘good’ digestion. In Chinese Medicine we split digestion from bowel movement (your poop is very important in diagnosis in Chinese Medicine, so it gets its own place in questioning). Digestion should include some of the following when eating proper portions: no heart burn, no-minimal bloating, no-minimal borborygmos (stomach rumbling), no feelings of things stuck in your stomach or throat, no foul-smelling burping, and especially no pain. Certainly there may be some things left out there, but basically eating should not cause any discomfort and at most some minimal fatigue as your blood goes to your digestive tract. As I have previously mentioned over-eating and giving yourself ‘buffet syndrome‘ will easily cause fatigue, borborygmos, belching, and lord knows what else. Note that this can happen on single occasions like this as even the healthiest digestive tract can’t keep up with 3 pounds of greasy Chinese food. Bowel movements should be roughly daily. It is important to pay attention to your body as everyone has a different ‘normal’. If your a healthy person and have a bowel movement every other day your whole life, then that is your ‘normal’ and should be your goal to maintain. Many keep their optimal baby type of digestion and have 3 bowel movements a day after each meal. Further, the stool should be soft, formed, and easy excreted. A whole post on its own can go into the different types of stools and meaning, so lets just say anything other than that you should work on!
Lets discuss Prebiotics and Probiotics. Elsewhere you may see different definitions and perhaps these two words used interchangeably, but my definitions are as follows. Prebiotics are foods that aid in bettering your digestion. MOST of the time these are fermented foods, and they work by promoting the growth of your GOOD bacteria in your digestive tract. Depending on your size anywhere from about 4-8 pounds of bacteria are in your body. Much of that is good and some is bad bacteria that is kept in check by your body. Probiotics are actual strains of good bacteria that you are ingesting and ‘planting’ it in your stomach to grow. Now, the similarity is that foods that are fermented are sometimes cultured already which would seem as if you are adding cultures to your body therefore making it Probiotic, but I still reference foods are Prebiotics (purposely grown bacteria strains to enter your digestive tract). Some products like Activia yogurt are prebiotic with probiotics added – Bifidus Regularis.
Here are some Prebiotic foods:
The foods provide excellent results. Real yogurt has excellent cultures and is very effective eaten daily. Kefir is also excellent as it contains strains that yogurt doesn’t and also contains no dairy, it is typically coconut. You can alternate these two as a snack daily to greatly improve digestion, or keep excellent digestion. Its also no secret how much I favor Miso Soup! As often as possible it should be taken prior to dinner to help digest the food, curb the appetite and provide minerals and thyroid support!
Here are some Prebiotic herbs often prescribed or taken:
Shen Qu- Massa Fermenta
Lai Fu Zi – Ralphani Semen
Shan Zha – Hawthorn Berry – Crataegi Fructus
The first two are probably left better off as used in formulas, a great formula for digestion that can easily be found is Bao He Wan. Shan Zha however can be taken in many different forms. More Shan Zha info can be found here- Shan Zha.
There is a paramount of Probiotic products and strains. Probably the most common are acidophilus. There quite some debate on the effectiveness of Probiotics for a few reasons. How do the antibiotics stay alive in a capsule form? How much gets past the stomach acid? Is the product you are purchasing quality and real Probiotics? Well, with much discussion with colleagues there seems to be some agreement on the best way to buy Probiotics. The first suggestion is to buy Probiotics that must be purchased out of the cooler section. It would be assumed that the strains are grown, encapsulated and then kept refrigerated to contain them and keep them alive, just as you would your yogurt! Get them from or ask your health provider. Many Acupuncturists, Herbalists, Naturopaths, etc have done their own research and carry or can recommend a good brand for you. Lastly, a suggestion is to buy the enema version of Probiotics so they plant directly where many of them should.
Apart from diet, the number 1 cause of bad digestion would no doubt be the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t have a way to tell good bacteria from bad bacteria. Doctors try to use specific antibiotics, but most of the time broad spectrum antibiotics are used and kill all of your bacteria. I recommend Prebiotics for daily use and probably all you with usually ever need to improve your digestion, but I do recommend taking Probiotics after a cycle of antibiotics. First please note that you ALWAYS take antibiotics for their full cycle prescribed even when you feel better, DON’T stop early! Afterwards take Probiotics for the same amount of time or long you were on antibiotics, and remember your daily Prebiotic fermented foods!