As we head into the colder months it can be important to make sure we're in top shape to help ward off any winter bugs. With recent research showing that getting enough probiotics can have various health benefits, here we round up some reasons to boost consumption of pre- and probiotics either through a good quality supplement or through your diet. Adding yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, fermented, soft cheeses and even sourdough bread into your diet will top up your levels of prebiotics, with asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, and legumes all rich in prebiotics.
Improve sleep and stress levels
A study published earlier this year found that prebiotics can help improve sleep and protect against the negative effects of stress, both important factors for maintaining a strong immune system and helping to keep viruses at bay. After feeding 3-week-old male rats a diet of either standard chow or chow that included prebiotics, the team found that those on the prebiotic diet spent more time in non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep, which is restful and restorative, than those on the non-prebiotic diet. Rats who were on the prebiotic diet also spent more time in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep after being exposed to a stressor, with REM sleep thought to be critical for promoting recovery from stress. The team also observed that the rats maintained a healthy and diverse gut microbiota even after exposure to the stressor.
Watch your weight
It can be tempting to consume some extra calories in winter to keep warm and comfort yourself on cold, dark days. However, filling up on prebiotic-packed fruit and veggies and probiotic rich foods will not only help give your diet a nutritious boost, but a 2015 study also confirmed a link between balanced intestinal flora and weight loss.
The study, published in the journal Obesity, showed that while following a four-week high-fat diet, men who drank a probiotic milkshake containing VSL3, a probiotic with multiple strains of bacteria including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum, put on less weight than others following the diet who drank a placebo milkshake. The researchers think that probiotics could have changed gut bacteria in a way that resulted in less body fat accumulation, and that the probiotics could have reduced fat absorption.
For those who are thinking about health long-term and not just for fall, Chinese and Canadian researchers have found evidence to suggest that a healthy gut could be linked to healthy aging. After looking at a cohort of more than 1,000 Chinese participants age 3 to over 100 the team found that there was a direct correlation between health and the microbes in the intestine, observing that the older participants who were classed as "extremely healthy" showed an overall microbiota composition similar to that of those age 30. The researchers now suggest that resetting microbiota in the elderly to that of a 30-year-old might help promote health.