Eating our way to improved intestinal balance and health
Unless you are suffering from an intestinal upset or are cleaning up the mess associated with an intestinal upset in your pets, you probably don’t often think about the health of the microbial population that inhabits your or your pet’s gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). However, over the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that the complex community of microorganisms residing in the GI tract not only influences digestive processes but also significantly impacts long-term and short-term health.
For optimum well-being, it is important to maintain an appropriate balance in the intestinal microflora. But what is that balance, and how we do we support it?
Nutrition strategies for a balanced GI tract
With the realization of the importance of microflora have come new nutritional strategies that influence microbial balance. Many are based on simple supplementation or diet changes, but their effects can be profound. These approaches are revolutionizing not only the way we view our gastrointestinal health, but also that of our animal companions.
Digestive aids that include specific feed ingredients, exogenous enzymes, probiotics, organic acids and plant-derived oils can be coupled with nutritional management practices to beneficially manipulate intestinal microbial populations. One of the most successful documented uses has been supplementation with small doses of yeast-based polysaccharides (prebiotic fibers) to influence the composition of the gastrointestinal microbial population.
We know that these supplementation strategies not only limit the proliferation of detrimental bacteria and pathogens, but are also associated with improved immune function and nutrient absorption. These approaches allow us to eat our way to improved health, but how exactly they work had not been understood…until recently.
Feeding the good microbes: The science behind the nutrition revolution
A nutritional revolution is at hand, with new tools for reliably demonstrating and predicting how dietary and supplementation approaches can influence the intestinal microflora and gastrointestinal health.
Detailed nucleic acid sequencing techniques now allow for an in-depth description of the composition, profile and function of the most beneficial microbial populations in the intestinal tract. It is now possible to clearly pinpoint the effects of nutrition on the critical components of these complex populations and to determine the most effective balance of intestinal gut microbes. Rather than focusing on individual types of microorganisms, these techniques allow us to identify the optimal microbial populations that promote good intestinal health. This clarity takes the guess work out of diet formulation and can strategically improve health, from the most minuscule gut microbes to overall well-being.