Have you heard the phrase “prebiotic fiber?” No? Well, perhaps you know a little bit about probiotics. These are the friendly bacteria that help your body digest foods.
Probiotic bacteria are not normally found in the human intestine, though, so they often don’t colonize well when they’re introduced — and that’s where prebiotic fiber comes in. Prebiotic foods high in fiber are vital in encouraging probiotic organisms to survive and thrive in the human gut — keeping your digestive system in optimal health.
Prebiotic carbohydrates are found naturally in such healing foods as bananas, berries, asparagus, garlic, wheat, oatmeal, barley (and other whole grains), flaxseed, tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, chicory, greens, and legumes.
Just how beneficial can prebiotic foods high in fiber be to your health? A recent study has tried to answer that very question. Researchers at the University of Florida explored the possibility that bacteria residing in the intestinal tract might influence immune function, especially during periods of stress. Previous studies have shown that consuming certain carbohydrates (prebiotics) preferred by beneficial bacteria might act as a sort of alternative cure for stress symptoms. To further test this hypothesis, researchers conducted a randomized dietary intervention trial in university students.
The research team recruited healthy, full-time students who had experienced at least one cold during the previous year and who were eligible to participate. The participants were randomly assigned to consume a prebiotic carbohydrate supplement or placebo for eight weeks. Final exams were taken during the sixth week of the study. To assess stress level, incidence and severity of illness, and gastrointestinal symptoms, students completed a series of online questionnaires.
The researchers found that stress was related to gastrointestinal problems such as increased diarrhea, indigestion, and pain. Stress level was also associated with the incidence and percentage of days of cold and flu-like symptoms. Consumption of the prebiotic supplement however, decreased the severity of colds and flu at all levels of stress. The probiotic carbohydrate also decreased the proportion of days ill, but this effect was more consistent in healthy-weight individuals than in their obese or overweight counterparts.
The researchers conclude with this bit of health advice: prebiotic fiber supplementation during periods of stress (in this case, final examinations) could reduce symptoms of
gastrointestinal dysfunction and cold or flu.