Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber

Adequate amounts of dietary fiber are essential to overall digestive health and colonic function. Likewise, probiotics are also essential to overall digestive wellness, colon health and a healthy immune system. An unhealthy colon leads to many things. One of the first manifestations is abnormal bowel movements.

Consistency of Bowel Movements

As one of the most fundamental functions of the colon is maintaining water balance, it performs this function by affecting the consistency of the stool. When colon cells are starving they are not able to shift water from the lumen of the colon back to the blood. The water stays in the gut and leaves (usually somewhat hurriedly) as a wet or even really watery stool – that’s diarrhea. Once that happens, you’re dehydrated, and your upper digestive tract adds less water to the materials it is trying to digest. Because they contain less water, these materials do not “slide” along the gut as easily and they tend to clog the digestive tube. By the time they reach the colon, they may have formed a mass that is too hard to deform by colon muscle contractions – this mass then tends to stay put – that’s constipation. This vicious cycle illustrates two extremes of an unhealthy colon.

One of two things then happens: either you manage somehow to pass this dry hard stool or you take a laxative that contains a chemical that forces your colon to contract so hard that it expels the lump. In both situations, the cells lining the colon and rectum can become irritated. Now, because less water was “wasted” in this bowel movement, your body has a chance to re-establish water balance. But your colon is now irritated in addition to being underfed. The next time your colon receives material from the small intestine, it “takes back” even less of the water, leading to another episode of dehydrating diarrhea. And so on. In many adults who do not realize that this is both abnormal and correctable through the diet, this cycle can perpetuate for years and even decades. In order to break this cycle, we need to ensure that the colon is being “fed” with the nutrients it needs.

In order to remain healthy, the colon cells thrive by eating the leftovers from our diet. In short – whatever remains after the bacteria, yeast, molds and protozoa in the colon have had their fill. Remember, not much ingested material reaches the colon – only about 10% or less of an average meal. As a function of normal digestion, by the time these leftovers get to your colon, almost all of the nutrients have been removed by the small intestine.

It is reassuring to know that the microbial residents of your colon are much better at chemically converting the material that reaches the colon into useful nutrients than they are at gobbling up those nutrients, so there can be plenty left-over for your colon cells to enjoy. Thus healthy bacteria do their part in maintaining the symbiotic relationship with our bodies, benefiting them and us. In addition to the vitamins and amino acids produced and shared by the microbes, the most important product of their activity for the health of colon cells is the conversion of undigested foodstuffs into what are called short-chain fatty acids.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Fiber: Short-Chain Fatty Acids

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