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Boost your Digestive Health … and More by Boosting Your Short Chain Fatty Acids

Do you sometimes get abdominal cramps even when it’s not time for your period?

Do you sometimes get diarrhea and wonder whether it’s food poisoning?

Are you so bloated that you find it hard to button up your shirt? What can you do about this? The answer may surprise you!

An Imbalance of Bacteria in Your Gut

Your gut contains an abundance of bacteria, collectively known as your gut microbiome. The majority of your microbiome does (or should) consist of beneficial bacteria. They help to keep your immune system in check, prevent mood swings, make vitamins and minerals, and control the release of various hormones throughout the body1.

What many people don’t realize is that, even in a healthy gut, the microbiome also naturally consists of pathogenic or “bad bacteria”. You don’t have to worry about these “bad bugs” because they are kept in check by your good bacteria – usually. However, when your good bacteria are overrun by your bad bacteria, you can develop a gut bacterial imbalance, also known as gut dysbiosis.

How can you tell if you have gut dysbiosis? Well, if you suffer from digestive issues such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps or bloating, gut dysbiosis could be to blame2. Left untreated, you could develop inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, or a variety of other chronic disorders3.

Factors that lead to gut dysbiosis

Now that you’re aware of the dangers of gut dysbiosis…well, what causes it in the first place?

A number of factors lead to gut dysbiosis – for instance, using antibiotics which wipe out large portions of the microbiome, or even, consuming a “typical” North American diet that is low in fiber, and packed with unhealthy fats and sugars. These factors both kill off existing bacteria, while also failing to provide the necessary components to support the growth of beneficial bacterial colonies, overall resulting in bacterial dysbiosis and, potentially, illness4.

Although it may seem scary that something as simple as dietary fiber can contribute to illness…well, on the bright side, it can be just this easy to improve your bacterial balance, as well!

Consuming a high fiber diet is actually one of the best ways to prevent or even reverse gut dysbiosis, as well as the symptoms and risks that come along with it. One of the main reasons is because your good bacteria produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) when they digest fiber.

What the heck is a short chain fatty acid and why are they important, you ask?

Well, let me explain…

What are short chain fatty acids?

Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are substances which are released when your good bacteria digests fiber in your gut. SCFAs make your gut more acidic, which in turn promotes the growth of good bacteria, thereby, preventing gut dysbiosis5.

Your gut bacteria mainly produce the SCFAs acetate, butyrate and propionate. These SCFAs have other health benefits, besides balancing bacterial levels within the gut, such as:

Relief of digestive issues

Digestive disorders such as IBS are becoming increasingly common, with an estimated one in five people in Western countries to be living with digestive symptoms! Believe it or not, studies have shown that consuming sufficient daily fiber eases symptoms in patients with digestive disorders, through mechanisms involving increased production of the SCFA, butyrate6.

Weight loss and blood sugar control

As you’ve seen, having a well-balanced bacteria produces a healthy variety of SCFAs – and, one of the wonderful results is easier weight management. SCFAs have shown to assist with both blood sugar stability and the balance of hunger and satiety hormones. Blood sugar stability is a major determinant of healthy weight status, while the added effect of regulating hunger hormones and helping you to feel fuller, sooner creates a double-edged sword against obesity and chronic illnesses. In fact, one study demonstrated that increasing SCFAs through daily prebiotic fiber consumption resulted in a direct improvement in appetite along with a reduction in overall weight and body fat7.

Heart health

Research has shown that increased SCFA levels, such as acetate, are correlated with improved markers of heart health, such as blood lipids8. With cardiovascular disease being a leading killer today, focusing on natural, preventative methods for improving heart health is essential.

How to Balance Gut Bacteria and Boost Your SCFAs!

As mentioned earlier, a high fiber diet is one of the best ways to balance gut bacteria and boost SCFA production. However, according to statistics, the majority of people are not getting enough fiber!

Today, let’s get specific… because, not only should you be increasing overall fiber intake, but focusing on a particular group of fibers called prebiotics is the health hack you’ve been looking for to balance bacteria and boost SCFA production!

Prebiotic fibers are carbohydrates that do not get digested or absorbed in your gut for your personal use. Instead, they are digested and used by the good bacteria in your gut to produce SCFAs9.

Let me put it this way, we need food to survive, right? Well – so do our bacteria! Think of prebiotics as the food supporting the growth of your good bacteria. Not only do prebiotics help the bacteria to grow – but, during the digestion of these fibers, the bacteria produce SCFAs in the process! The result? Healthier bacteria, more SCFAs in your body, and better overall health for you and your bacteria!

Now – where can you find these prebiotics to start improving your health? Let’s find out…

Prebiotic fibers: the best sources

Two types of prebiotic fibers include inulin and fructooligosaccharide (FOS). You can either take these as a supplement – or, for a more gentle and well-tolerated approach, get them through food!

Consuming natural sources of prebiotic fibers has shown to enhance SCFA production to a greater degree than using prebiotic supplements10. And luckily, there are many great natural sources of prebiotic fibers, with one of the best ones out there being yacon root11.

Yacon is originally from the Andes, and contains both inulin and FOS, making it a concentrated source of prebiotic fibers to manage your microbiome, weight and overall health!

Aiming to consume a rich source of prebiotics daily, such as yacon, is a great strategy for keeping your gut in tip-top shape, ensuring your SCFA production is high, and providing a great strategy for preventing chronic illness.

Now that you know the benefits of SCFAs for your body, why not begin upping your fiber to start reaping the benefits?

References:

  1. Kristensen N, Bryrup T, Allin K, Nielsen T, Hansen T, Pedersen O. Alterations in fecal microbiota composition by probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Genome Medicine. 2016;8(1).
  2. Saffouri G, Shields-Cutler R, Chen J, Yang Y, Lekatz H, Hale V et al. Small intestinal microbial dysbiosis underlies symptoms associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders. Nature Communications. 2019;10(1).
  3. Zhang Y, Li S, Gan R, Zhou T, Xu D, Li H. Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015;16(12):7493-7519.
  4. Parada Venegas D, De la Fuente M, Landskron G, González M, Quera R, Dijkstra G et al. Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs)-Mediated Gut Epithelial and Immune Regulation and Its Relevance for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Frontiers in Immunology. 2019;10.
  5. McLoughlin R, Berthon B, Jensen M, Baines K, Wood L. Short-chain fatty acids, prebiotics, synbiotics, and systemic inflammation: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2017;:ajcn156265.
  6. Canani R. Potential beneficial effects of butyrate in intestinal and extraintestinal diseases. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2011;17(12):1519.
  7. Chambers E, Viardot A, Psichas A, Morrison D, Murphy K, Zac-Varghese S et al. Effects of targeted delivery of propionate to the human colon on appetite regulation, body weight maintenance and adiposity in overweight adults. Gut. 2014;64(11):1744-1754.
  8. Chambers E, Byrne C, Morrison D, Murphy K, Preston T, Tedford C et al. Dietary supplementation with inulin-propionate ester or inulin improves insulin sensitivity in adults with overweight and obesity with distinct effects on the gut microbiota, plasma metabolome and systemic inflammatory responses: a randomised cross-over trial. Gut. 2019;68(8):1430-1438.
  9. Meksawan K, Chaotrakul C, Leeaphorn N, Gonlchanvit S, Eiam-Ong S, Kanjanabuch T. Effects of Fructo-Oligosaccharide Supplementation on Constipation in Elderly Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis Patients. Peritoneal Dialysis International. 2014;36(1):60-66.
  10. UTAMI N, SONE T, TANAKA M, NAKATSU C, SAITO A, ASANO K. Comparison of Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) Tuber with Commercialized Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) in Terms of Physiology, Fermentation Products and Intestinal Microbial Communities in Rats. Bioscience of Microbiota, Food and Health. 2013;32(4):167-178.

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