Across the UK, there is a continuous challenge to public health known as ‘the fibre gap’.

Current nutritional guidelines recommend that adults should include 30g of fibre per day in their diet, including 5g [1] of a specific kind known as ‘prebiotic fibre’. However, studies show that as few as 9% [2] of adults actually reach this recommended intake. So, what makes fibre such an important component of our diets and what are the specific benefits of prebiotic fibre?

Including sufficient fibre in a healthy and balanced diet has a number of known benefits, including making us feel fuller for longer to modulate appetite, and aiding the digestion of our food. Non-digestible, or prebiotic fibre, plays a different role, however. Prebiotic fibre feeds ‘good bacteria’ inside the complex eco-system that lies in our gut, called the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is made up of thousands of different bacteria, totaling trillions of micro-organisms that all play a role in our physical health, wellbeing, and fitness.

But what are the benefits of prebiotic fibre, and how can we add more into our diets?

Immune System

Perhaps surprisingly, around 70% of our immune system [3] resides in the gut, so by committing to a healthy diet and focusing on what we put in our bodies, we can have a direct impact on supporting our immune system. Prebiotic fibre can be found in a broad range of nutritious foods like chicory root, asparagus, leeks, oats, broccoli and apples, to name a few.

The prebiotic fibre found in these foods can contribute to the maintenance of the immune system by nourishing certain types of good bacteria in the gut, which then send and receive signals through immune pathways, helping to support the body’s natural defences. In addition, when friendly gut bugs ferment the fibre in our large intestine, they release compounds that balance the gut environment to maintain the immune response.

They say that variety is the spice of life, and this is true for the gut microbiota supporting our immune system. Research shows that if we eat 30 different plant-based foods per week [4] , this switches the composition of bacteria in our gut to a more favourable balance and could play an important role in protecting us from certain autoimmune diseases.

Digestive Health

A well-supported digestive system helps us break down the food we eat into the essential nutrients that the body needs to live healthily and happily. Poor digestion can lead to digestive discomfort, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. A troubled digestive system can be seen as an upset stomach, craving high sugar food, mood swings and skin rashes.

If you are experiencing digestive problems, your healthcare practitioner may suggest dietary changes. This may entail an increase in prebiotic fibre into the diet, to nourish the good bacteria and enable our gut to absorb nutrients more effectively.

Mental Wellbeing

Our gut is sometimes called the 'second brain' [5] because it can have a significant impact on mood, cognition and behaviour. Our brain and microbiome have a unique relationship where they send information and signals between one and other, called the 'gut-brain axis' [6].

The gut is a powerhouse for supplying our body with neurotransmitters, and surprisingly for many, researchers estimate that 90-95% [7] of serotonin actually originates in the gut. Serotonin is the happy hormone that contributes to our overall wellbeing and happiness. Research has shown the people dealing with depression [8] have displayed low levels of serotonin, as well as a lack of distinctive differences in their gut bacteria.

Through the cultivation of a variety of good bacteria in our gut microbiome, it is believed that we can support and influence mental health.

Exercise

Exercise and our gut work hand in hand to help us achieve our personal fitness goals. Certain types of good bacteria found in our gut microbiome act as microscopic personal trainers! Studies have revealed that certain strains of bacteria are more present in the guts of athletes [9] , and these kinds help breakdown lactic acid which causes fatigue in muscles – supporting athletic performance.

Sleep Cycle

Several studies also suggest that the secret to a good night's sleep could lie in the gut. This can be extremely significant for physical wellbeing - a restful night’s sleep can improve our concentration, keep our hearts healthy and reduce stress.

Disruption to our sleep and circadian rhythm can have an impact on our gut, which could leave us more susceptible to inflammatory and metabolic diseases.

In Summary

The gut’s wellbeing is a true reflection of our overall health - and prebiotic fibre plays a vital role in supporting it. As we look to get more in tune with gut health and the important role it plays in physical wellbeing, there has never been a better time to explore the fascinating science behind prebiotics.


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