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Below is the interview of microbiologist Kiran Krishnan on Healing Quest Podcast:
Kiran Krishnan on the Benefits PREbiotics
Judy Brooks: Hi and welcome to Healing Quest. I'm Judy Brooks.
Roy Walkenhorst: And I'm Roy Walkenhorst. Our focus here on Healing Quest is integrative health, including mind body medicine and how it can help us all live longer, healthier, and happier. And we talk a lot about the benefits of probiotics - supplements that help keep our digestive system healthy and support overall wellness in lots of ways. In fact, probiotics in recent years have attracted lots of attention as we all kind of learn more about how important the gut is to keeping us healthy.
Judy Brooks: But now another natural health supplement is gaining a fair share of attention. They're called prebiotics, and they're also aimed at keeping our gut healthy but in a different way. So to help us sort all this out, we've asked microbiologist, Kiran Krishnan of Just Thrive Probiotic to join us today by phone from his base in Chicago. Hi, Kiran.
Kiran Krishnan: Hi, Judy. Hi, Roy. So great to be with you guys again.
Judy Brooks: I don't know a lot about prebiotics. So what do prebiotics do, and how are they really different from probiotics?
Kiran Krishnan: Yeah. So that's a really important question. There are lots of studies coming out on prebiotics. We're doing some ourselves. Prebiotics are generally food for bacteria. So the idea is that the bacteria that live in your gut like to eat certain things, and if you know what those things are and you create a product like a prebiotic that you consume that a human cannot digest. So that's the important part about it. Is that we won't be able to digest it, assimilate it, and absorb it. It's specific food for bacteria. Now, typically prebiotics are some form of fiber or resistant carbohydrate. Those are typically what prebiotics are, and then the most well known prebiotics are called oligosaccharides. A big fancy word but it basically means it's a very long complex carbohydrate chain that is structured in such a way that our own bodies cannot digest it for food. So it passes past our digestive system in the small bowel, and it ends up in the colon where certain groups of bacteria can specifically ferment them for benefit.
Judy Brooks: What is a resistant carbohydrate?
Kiran Krishnan: Ah, that's an important one. So there's something called a resistant starch. So carbohydrates can be anywhere from two or three molecules stuck together of glucose and sucrose, those are called simple sugars or disaccharides. Those are easily digested by the human system itself, and then we will absorb them readily into our system. They'll enter our blood and provide us with energy and so on. Or in the case of eating too much of it, it'll provide us with diabetes and heart disease. But resistant carbohydrates have a particular structure that they are resistant to our digestion. So that's why they call them resistant carbohydrates. So they're resistant to the enzymes that we naturally produce to break them down, and they're also resistant to our stomach acid. So because they're resistant, they make it past the small intestine, which is where all of our natural digestion happens, and they go into the large intestine where the bulk of the bacteria are. And then they go ahead and feed the bacteria.
Roy Walkenhorst: Isn't it true that most Americans are fiber deficient? Is that an aspect of how prebiotics are going to help us?
Kiran Krishnan: Absolutely. So fiber seems to be more and more a really, really critical part of a healthy diet. It seems like our ancestors have evidence that shows that our ancestors ate upwards of 100 grams of fiber a day. The average American maybe eats about 15. That's a huge difference, right?
Judy Brooks: Yes.
Kiran Krishnan: So our bodies and our microbiomes, our gut bacteria, our digestive system, all evolve with this type of diet that involved about 100 grams of fiber a day. When we shrink it down and when we replace the fiber with sugars and in some cases also with fats, then we start to change how our microbiome looks. A lot of the good bacteria in our gut really survive off of fiber. Now what is a point of feeding those bacteria, right? That's some of the questions people always ask me. If we're not absorbing that food, then why do we care about feeding them? Well, the important thing is the bacteria, when they break down the fiber or the resistant starches or the prebiotics, what they're doing is actually converting them into really important compounds that we need to function. So one of the most well known of those compounds are things called short chain fatty acid.
Kiran Krishnan: So when you have your particular bacteria in your colon that lives off of fiber and prebiotics, when they break down those fibers and prebiotics, they release these short chain fatty acids. For example, one of them is called butyrate. Now some of the things butyrate does for us, for example, it improves insulin function. In fact, butyrate, high levels of butyrate prevent the formation of diabetes. It also reduces inflammation both in the gut and systemically. It also stimulates your body to burn fat for fuel, and then some of the other short chain fatty acids feed the brain. Some of them feed the liver and reduce inflammation in the liver. So all of these really important functions can only be achieved by providing these important bacteria with the right adequate amounts of fiber and prebiotics.
Kiran Krishnan: Then the specialized prebiotics that we should mention as well.
Judy Brooks: So what are the specialized prebiotics?
Roy Walkenhorst: I was just wondering that.
Kiran Krishnan: So one of the dangers of prebiotics and fiber in general is that if we already have a dysfunctional bacteria population, right? So imagine your bacteria population is dysfunctional because of several courses of antibiotics throughout your life, lifestyle things, just being in the Western World. Basically, you end up having a higher population of dysfunctional or unfavorable bacteria. Now if you're feeding that population with all of this good bacteria food, then you could actually be making the problem worse because general prebiotics and general fiber can be consumed by many different types of bacteria. So if you're taking a dysfunctional population that has high levels of dysfunctional bacteria, and you're feeding it bacteria food, you're going to be supporting the growth of those problematic bacteria even further. So that's why we've been working on something called precision prebiotics.
Judy Brooks: Precision?
Kiran Krishnan: Precision, yeah.
Judy Brooks: Okay.
Kiran Krishnan: We want to be very specific about everything we do, right? So the idea was how do you isolate and create a prebiotic that only feeds the good bacteria in your gut? So that way if your population is off to begin with, you're not going to be inadvertently feeding the bad bacteria because you're using the precision prebiotics, you can actually strategically feed just the good bacteria. And that is achieved by selecting specific oligosaccharides. That's a big word I mentioned earlier.
Here's the thing about oligosaccharides, oligosaccharides are our baseline, natural prebiotic. In fact, mother's milk contains over 200 different types of oligosaccharides. And so the first prebiotics a baby's ever exposed to are these oligosaccharides, and these oligosaccharides are also found in various fruits and vegetables, typically in the core or the high fiber centers in the fruits and vegetables. One of the oligosaccharides that we work with is found in the cob of the corn, not in the kernel, not on the outside. It's on the inside of the cob, right? Same thing with kiwi. There's one really potent oligosaccharides that comes from kiwi, but it's found in the fiber component of the kiwi on the inside part of the core. And these oligosaccharides have specialized structures where they only feed certain groups of good bacteria. That's why we call them precision prebiotic.
Judy Brooks: We've been talking about probiotics for years on this show and on the television show and how important it is to be taking probiotics every day. Do we need to amend that to include prebiotics?
Kiran Krishnan: Yeah. Absolutely. So in our latest research that we're doing on really disruptive guts, what we're seeing is that if you have the right prebiotic, it can dramatically amplify the beneficial effects of a probiotic. And so that relationship is actually called a symbiotic. S-Y-M biotic. So symbiotic means that you found a probiotic and a prebiotic that both enhance the same characteristics in the gut. I'll give you an example of what we seen. So one of the keystone strains in your gut that's really important called akkermansia muciniphila. This keystone strain you're not going to find it in any probiotic on the market because it's a very specialized that only live in the gut. If it comes out of the body, it dies within seconds. It can't exist outside of the human body. But it's a very important protective strain against everything under the cardio metabolic syndrome umbrella, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and so on.
Kiran Krishnan: Now when you have high levels of akkermansia, you are protected against those hyperchromic illnesses. So when we add a probiotic in, this spore-based probiotic, we see about a tenfold increase in the growth of akkermansia, which is really significant and really important. And then when we add the prebiotic in, that tenfold increase goes to almost thousandfold increase because of the prebiotic significantly increases the growth of that akkermansia. So that just shows you how a true symbiotic, a spore-based probiotic, and then a precision prebiotic can specifically improve digestive health in a very significant way.
Judy Brooks: Well, this is exciting. We're going to want to hear more about this as you progress. When is your study going to be completed?
Kiran Krishnan: So the study is completed. It's actually going through peer review right now in a medical, in a scientific journal. So hopefully it'll be published actually sometime in the next four months.
Judy Brooks: Okay. Well, we're going to stay on top of this. Thanks so much, Kiran, as always. You've enlightened us.