Your Guide to Your Gut: Pre Pro Psycho Biotics

Published on: 05/22/2024
Pre Pro Psycho Biotics, three jars of kumbucha with two heads of garlic and half of a fresh lime

Probiotics and prebiotics are incredibly popular dietary supplements. In fact, after vitamins and minerals, more American adults use probiotics or prebiotics than any other supplement (1). And there’s a good reason for this. Not only is gut health becoming recognized as a key pillar of overall physical health, but recent studies also highlight the impact a healthy gut has on mental health. Yes, this is where the “psycho” part of Pre Post Psycho Biotics comes in—so let’s dig in!

Probiotics and prebiotics promote health in many ways. As I had discussed here, a gut full of “friendly” microbes will absorb more nutrients, discourage unfriendly microbes, and even reduce inflammation—all of which are beneficial to gut health and overall health well-being. Besides supplements, many foods contain probiotics and prebiotics. 

So what are Pre, Pro, and Psycho biotics?

Before we dive into the ways that prebiotics, probiotics, and psychobiotics can impact our health, and how to get enough of them, here is what I mean when I talk about them:

  • Microbiome – In the large intestine of your gut are trillions of “friendly” microbes that naturally inhabit this area (2,3,4). Most of these microbes are bacteria, but there are also some health-promoting viruses and fungi (not the magic fungi here😉). All of these tiny organisms living together are called the microbiome. Everyone starts with a unique microbiome at birth, influenced by many factors including what we eat and the medications and supplements we take (2,3).
  • Probiotics – Probiotics are “live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body” (1). The word comes from the Greek words “pro” and “bios” meaning “for life” (4).
  • Prebiotics – Prebiotics are “nondigestible food components that selectively stimulate the growth or activity of desirable microorganisms” (1). They’re essentially food for the microbes in your gut and they’re used to help grow a diverse, thriving microbiome (3,5). 
  • Psychobiotics – Psychobiotics are probiotics that provide mental health benefits (6). 

Health benefits of pro, pre, and psycho biotics

Maintaining a balance of gut microbes benefits health in so many ways. The list of positive health effects of a healthy gut microbiome seems to grow daily (almost overwhelming!) because of all the amazing research in this area. Some of the key benefits include helping digest food and promoting gut health, producing essential nutrients, influencing the immune system, improving moods and mental health, and even reducing the impact of inflammation and toxin-producing microbes (1,3,7). Since I do not want you to feel as overwhelmed as I am by the daily gut news, we will zero in on the benefits of gut health for both your physical and mental well-being❤️.

Gut health

The microbiome helps maintain and improve gut health in many ways. It contributes to healthy bowel function and may help with conditions such as colitis (1,2). Some studies show that probiotics can help with diarrhea and constipation (1), especially if the cause is due to an imbalance in the gut microbiome (8). A subject matter most of us do not like to discuss, but such an important one to chat about!

How does a healthy gut microbiome lead to a healthy gut? There are many ways! For starters, certain microbes produce beneficial substances like short-chain fatty acids and B vitamins (4). These nutrients are absorbed and nourish the body. Other compounds help lower the gut’s pH and strengthen its lining (9). A healthy microbiome can also reduce inflammation, eliminate toxins, and boost mineral absorption. Sounds worth the effort, right? And there’s even more…

Mood, mental health, and psychobiotics

There is a growing area of research about nutritional psychiatry—the links between what we eat and how we feel mentally and emotionally (7). Many studies show the strength of this food-mood connection✨. For example, eating a high-quality, nutritious diet nourishes the brain, helps keep inflammation down, and helps us enjoy more stable moods (so these fun times are not just from Menopause alone!🙃) (7). Plus, many chronic gut conditions are often accompanied by mood disorders such as depression and anxiety (6). As mentioned earlier, there is a subset of probiotics that have mental health benefits called “psychobiotics” (6).

A recent review of seven clinical trials published in the medical journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health found that certain probiotic supplements, with and without prebiotics, were linked to “measurable reductions in depression” (10).

How does gut health influence the mind and emotions? Via the “gut-brain axis” superhighway I had mentioned. Several parts of this axis foster constant communication in both directions between your gut and brain (6). Parts of the gut-brain axis include:

  • Some neurotransmitters and neurohormones are produced in the gut. For example, it’s estimated that 90-95 percent of the serotonin in the body is produced in the gut (6,7). Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep, appetite, and emotions, and reduce pain (7). Yes, serotonin is quite an important one!
  • The digestive system contains 100 million nerve cells and is a hub for the immune system (7). 
  • A healthy gut microbiome helps to regulate the stress response and inflammation throughout the body and mind (6). 
  • Gut health can affect weight management and obesity treatment. The gut microbiome influences how food is digested and absorbed, how dietary fats are stored, and the production of hunger hormones (11,12).

All these gut-brain shenanigans are driven by your gut microbiome and boosted by pro—or should we say, psycho—biotics! (6,7). 

How to get enough Pro Pre Psycho biotics 

Probiotics and prebiotics can be found in both foods and supplements. 

Probiotic foods

Many gut-healthy, fermented foods are produced with the help of bacteria. Some of these include yogurt, kefir, pickles, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and kombucha (2) (one of my favorite miso recipes). However, not all fermented foods still contain live active cultures of those bacteria by the time they arrive at the market or grocery store shelf (2,9). Your best bet is to choose fermented products from the refrigerated section (3) and check the product labels to ensure they contain “live active cultures” (2). (Or make your own fermented foods, if you are so inclined). Also, some food companies are now fortifying unfermented foods (cereals, juices) with probiotics (9); so again, check your labels. You need these to be “live.” One of my favorite fermented foods is sauerkraut (for real). The line of Kraut and other fermented foods out there now is immense and tasty!

Prebiotic (fiber-rich) foods

Many foods are rich in the insoluble fiber that health-promoting gut microbes need to thrive. These include whole grains (oatmeal, whole grain bread, and pasta), vegetables (asparagus, leeks, onions), starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, corn), fruit (bananas), and legumes (beans, lentils, peas) (2,4). Enjoy a smorgasbord of these fiber-rich foods to supercharge the health and diversity of your microbiome naturally! (3).

In addition to eating probiotic and prebiotic foods, it’s also a good idea to limit foods that can deplete your friendly gut microbes. This includes enjoying fewer processed foods that are high in sugars, artificial sweeteners, and saturated fats (2,3). 

Probiotic supplements

There are many strains of probiotic microbes available, each having unique effects. Some of the most common strains included in probiotic supplements include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus (9). Many, though not all, of these strains are similar to those found naturally in the microbiome (1). Supplement companies combine different strains of bacteria and yeasts in different amounts to create many unique supplements to choose from. 

Unlike with foods, the manufacture of probiotic supplements is not monitored in the US and some products have been found to have different or fewer probiotics than what’s listed on the label (8). This is why it’s important to choose a high-quality probiotic whenever possible. 

Here are a couple of my client favorites:

**Note: I use Fullscript when working with clients (and myself!) when deciding on probiotics and other supplements, as this online dispensary simplistically provides quality products with discounted pricing. This is my affiliate link which means if you purchase a product from here, you get a discount, and I may get a small commission at no cost to you. 

*If you’re considering taking supplements, consult your doctor to ensure they’re right for you.

Prebiotic supplements

Prebiotic supplements contain starches that the gut microbes consume and metabolize into beneficial compounds. These fiber-rich supplements may include inulin, GOS (galactooligosaccharides), FOS (fructooligosaccharides), and lactulose (4).

Eating a varied plant-based diet will provide your body with plenty of prebiotics without the need for supplements. Prebiotics are naturally present in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Including a mix of colorful produce and whole grains at each meal, and legumes a few times per week should give you enough prebiotics to nourish the beneficial bacteria in your gut. With that said, there is still a need in certain circumstances.

My client favorite (same as above):

*If you’re considering taking supplements, consult your doctor to ensure they’re right for you.

Bottom Line 

Gut health is more than just your digestive system—it’s your whole health system! A happy gut influences physical and mental health in countless ways. One powerful way to keep your gut happy is by nourishing your microbiome. This means enjoying probiotic (fermented) foods and prebiotic (fiber-rich) foods. Remember, a well-fed microbiome is a happy microbiome😃! And if you need extra help, probiotics and prebiotics are also available as dietary supplements. Because sometimes your gut just needs a little extra TLC!❤️

Do you need help optimizing your gut health or overall health? As a registered dietitian, I’d love to help. Book an appointment today to see if my services can help you!

References

  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2019, August). Probiotics: What You Need To Know. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. (2022, November 14). Probiotics and prebiotics: what’s really important? https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/are-you-getting-essential-nutrients-from-your-diet
  3. Corliss, J. (2023, November 1). How a healthy gut helps your heart. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/how-a-healthy-gut-helps-your-heart
  4. Ji, J., Jin, W., Liu, S. J., Jiao, Z., & Li, X. (2023). Probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics in health and disease. MedComm, 4(6), e420. https://doi.org/10.1002/mco2.420
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10625129/
  5. Golen, T & Ricciotti, H. (2021, November 1). What are postbiotics? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/what-are-postbiotics
  6. Del Toro-Barbosa, M., Hurtado-Romero, A., Garcia-Amezquita, L. E., & García-Cayuela, T. (2020). Psychobiotics: Mechanisms of Action, Evaluation Methods and Effectiveness in Applications with Food Products. Nutrients, 12(12), 3896. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12123896
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7767237/
  7. Selhub, E. (2022, September 18). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. (2022, February 2). Should you take probiotics? https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-take-probiotics
  9. Office of Dietary Supplements. (2023, November 3). Probiotics: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/
  10. British Medical Journal. (2020, July). Probiotics alone or combined with prebiotics may help ease depression. https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/probiotics-alone-or-combined-with-prebiotics-may-help-ease-depression/
  11. Aoun A, Darwish F, Hamod N. The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss. Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2020 Jun 30;25(2):113-123. doi: 10.3746/pnf.2020.25.2.113. PMID: 32676461; PMCID: PMC7333005.
  12. Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, February 12). Do gut bacteria inhibit weight loss? https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-gut-bacteria-inhibit-weight-loss#:~:text=How%20could%20they%20affect%20our,be%20harder%20to%20lose%20weight.

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With a longstanding dedication to healthy cooking and eating, I promote nutrition with a rebellious twist: the belief that perfection is not required for success on your wellness journey. 

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