Often confused with each other, probiotics are living microorganisms (lactobacillus, for example) which when eaten, boost or maintain the level of beneficial bowel bacteria.
And a healthy gut microbiome (the trillions of microbes which inhabit the intestinal tract), is important for good digestion, a strong, healthy immune system and other aspects of health - including mood and behaviour.
Fermented foods such as live yoghurt and kefir are natural sources of probiotics.
Lactobacilli pictured under an electron microscope
Prebiotics are compounds in food which nourish the growth of friendly gut flora. These include the chicory and Brewer's yeast in Vince the Vet Digestion for example, which is specially formulated and proven to support gut microbiome health in both the small and large intestine.
In short therefore, probiotics deliver beneficial bacteria to the digestive tract, while prebiotics provide the fuel needed for these important microorganisms to thrive and populate the bowels. Together they help the gut microbiome remain healthy and better able to withstand many of the challenges faced by modern day pets - which include the ingestion of dietary and environmental chemicals, antibiotics and other harmful substances.
Why Are Intestinal Flora So Important?
A balanced, healthy gut microbiome helps to maintain well-being in a number of vital ways:
1. Defence against pathogens.
Beneficial bowel microbes compete with harmful microorganisms (pathogens) for nutrients in the diet, limiting the amount of food available to them, which keeps their number in check.
They also prevent pathogens attaching to the intestinal lining and invading deeper tissues to cause problems locally, and if they manage to enter the circulation, elsewhere in the body.
2. Production of healthy mucus.
The composition of the microbiome can affect the thickness and quality of mucus lining the bowels.
Friendly gut flora help to maintain this protective barrier, while harmful microbes lead to thinning of intestinal mucus and an increased risk of inflammation and infection - as occurs in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and ulcerative colitis, for example.
Healthy mucus (pictured below, glistening on the folds of the duodenum) is a clear, jelly like substance which coats the surface of the entire digestive tract.
3. Development of the immune system.
Shortly after birth, the bowels become colonised by bacteria from Mum and the environment.
These microorganisms stimulate the development of white bloods (macrophages, monocytes and neutrophils) in the gut wall, which provide a first line of defence against harmful bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
But not only this, beneficial bowel bacteria also have a positive impact on the immune system in the rest of the body too, including the bone marrow, bloodstream, spleen and elsewhere.
Together these effects result in a greater resistance to invading pathogens and a more rapid return to full health when infections occur.
White blood cells (coloured purple) on a mucous membrane
4. Maintenance of normal digestive functions.
Bowel bacteria also contribute to health by:
- regulating intestinal motility
- producing vitamins
- transforming bile acids
- helping the body to absorb minerals
- destroying toxins
- producing short-chain organic acids (such as acetic, propionic and butyric acids) which provide energy to the cells lining the colon
- regulating the homeostasis of oxalic acid and preventing the formation of kidney stones
The extraordinary microcosm of organisms that inhabit the inside of the bowels, and which outnumber the cells in dogs and cat's bodies by more than 10 to 1, is in many ways the foundation of all health.
Without a strong, stable, supportive gut flora population, living in harmony with the body:
- food cannot be digested effectively (meaning nutritional deficiencies can occur even if a nutrient rich diet is fed)
- immune system function is weakened (resulting in an increased risk of infection, cellular damage caused by environmental and dietary chemicals, and cancer)
- nervous system dysfunction is more likely (which can adversely affect neuromuscular health, temperament, mood and behaviour)
- cellular health suffers (which impacts the liver, kidneys, skin, endocrine glands and many other parts of the body)
Effective Prebiotic Support
Digestion is a unique blend of 2 natural prebiotics, proven in clinical veterinary practice to support a healthy gut microbiome.
The tried and tested proportions of chicory root and Brewer's yeast in Digestion ensures that health supporting microbes in both the small and large intestine are provided with nutrients which help them to thrive. And this in turn:
- aids digestion
- maintains a healthy gastrointestinal tract
- strengthens gut immunity
- supports the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPD) axis and healthy stress responses, mood and behaviour.