The biggest health story of 2021 will undoubtedly be a continuation of 2020’s marquee news item: the coronavirus. Hopefully, next year will witness the successful implementation of a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine. Those that emerge relatively unscathed from the pandemic will breathe a major sigh of relief once they get the Covid jab. But beyond merely surviving, what will be the one natural health product that has enormous potential to improve health, including amongst those who have type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases?
No, it’s not probiotics. As we saw earlier this year, in a mostly-biased 60 Minutes segment, probiotic supplements may largely be a waste of money, depending on the brand. Because the FDA does not regulate health supplements, this is true of any other non-prescription health product on the market; due diligence is required when choosing a brand of any health supplement.
But the one natural health product that seems poised to overtake probiotics in value in just a handful of years is closely related. The probiotics market is expected to reach $7 billion by 2025. And this one type of supplement that’s very similar to probiotics that you’re going to hear about more and more next year is, according to Statista.com, expected to reach even higher by that same year: $8.5 billion.
The Biggest Health Trend Of 2021 Will Be…
Before divulging this supplement that may end up disrupting the diet industry, let’s review the shortcomings of probiotics. Especially in the event that you didn’t catch the 60 Minutes segment (or didn’t feel like clicking the link above to the article about it).
Probiotic supplements contain millions or even billions of friendly bacteria. These microorganisms help improve gut health by populating the gut with friendly bacteria instead of disease-causing pathogenic bacteria. Gut bacteria should mostly reside in the lower GI tract, namely the large intestine, which is also called the colon. Billions of bacteria may sound inconceivably huge to you. But consider that your gut is home to trillions of bacteria. That’s why probiotic supplements contain such a high number of what are called “colony forming units.”
But here’s the thing about probiotics. In order to colonize in your colon, the good bacteria have to survive your stomach’s harsh acidic, digestive juices. Although the 60 Minutes segment was arguably too one-sided in its judgement of probiotic supplements, it is true that many brands of probiotics may be ineffective in colonizing the gut because of this reason.
In addition, there’s one more major reason why probiotics may not be effective for heartburn, GERD and acid reflux, among other digestive maladies…
And that is that if you’re not eating a diet that’s very rich in fruits, vegetables and other resistant starches, the bacteria in your gut will have nothing to fertilize it. You can’t expect a plant to thrive without adequate soil. Moreover, even if you do eat a relatively healthy diet, you may not be eating enough of certain specific foods that serve as the best fertilizer for the friendly bacteria in your colon.
Are you eating lots of chicory root, dandelion greens, raw garlic, raw onion, raw asparagus, and green bananas, which unappetizingly lack any ripeness whatsoever? If not, the only other food that you might eat that has the one nutrient that’s primed to overtake probiotics as the biggest health supplement in the near future is oats. The problem with oats is that over 90% of it is genetically-modified and contains glyphosate residue.
But the one quasi-nutrient that will hopefully be distributed to the masses with the same determination as the Covid vaccine is…
Well, first let’s explain why this substance is a quasi nutrient, then it will finally be revealed. The substance in question is not a nutrient because it doesn’t get digested by you. But your gut bacteria does digest it.
And in doing so, your friendly bacteria produces nutrients that have been shown in research studies (like this one) to lower blood sugar, reduce inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease, prevent colon cancer, lower risk factors for heart failure and cardiovascular disease, improve digestion and mineral absorption, and help manage body weight.
So what is this magic kinda-sorta nutrient that feeds your friendly gut bacteria?
Not all fiber is prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic fiber, or simply “prebiotics” produce short-chain fatty acids when they ferment in the colon. Just like the preferred fuel source for your brain and muscles is glucose, the bacteria in your gut thrive on prebiotic fiber. Your body, should it be starved of glucose (sugar), can convert fatty acids called ketones into glucose for energy. But your bacteria can’t convert all types of carbs or indigestible fiber into prebiotic fiber.
Only specific foods like the ones mentioned above are fermented in the large intestine as prebiotic fiber.
But when’s the last time you bit into a clove of raw garlic or a bulb of raw onion or chomped on some raw asparagus. The good news is that the humble apple is an excellent source of prebiotic fiber. Pectin, the main type of soluble fiber in apples (about 50% of the fiber in an apple is pectin) ferments as prebiotic fiber.
Another reason for the maxim, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
Is Prebiotic Fiber The Answer To Diabetes And Obesity?
The short answer to this question is that it’s a very strong possibility. Research on probiotics (the friendly bacteria that eat prebiotic fiber in the colon) is much more abundant than on prebiotic fiber. But to be sure, plenty of studies show that in those with metabolic disorders, there is a dearth of friendly bacteria and an overabundance of pathogenic bacteria. Hence, obesity isn’t always a “lifestyle disease” characterized by a lack of willpower.
Diet modification itself may not be enough to improve the intestinal flora. Prebiotic fiber powders or capsules may prove to be the panacea for metabolic disorders by restoring the proper ratio of friendly to unfriendly gut bacteria.
Just a word of caution before you purchase a prebiotic fiber supplement or start eating more prebiotic foods: your intestines won’t be used to having so much fermentation in the colon. Therefore, expect some gas or bloating or both. But as your friendly gut microbes start colonizing because they are being fertilized by prebiotic fiber, you’ll get used to it.
And although research on prebiotic fiber is essentially in its infancy, there’s good evidence to suggest that a specific type of prebiotic called XOS (xylooligosaccharides), which is a slow-burning sugar in sugarcane, produces the least amount of side effects.
This is especially important if you have irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive disorder. If you do have a digestive disorder, seek the advice of a qualified health professional.
Like anything else, prebiotics shouldn’t be considered a cure-all. But when combined with proper exercise and diet and other healthy lifestyle factors, prebiotics can improve several facets of overall wellness. And prebiotics might just end up being the biggest health trend in the next coming years.