Prebiotics and Your Pet's Hapiness
By definition, prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fibre compound. Just like other high-fibre foods, prebiotic compounds - including the kind found in foods like garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, dandelion greens and onions (for humans only) - pass through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and remain undigested [ref], since the human and canine body can’t fully break them down. Once they pass through the small intestine, they reach the colon, where they’re fermented by the gut microflora.
Prebiotics are best known as a type of fibre called “oligosaccharides” [ref]. Today, when researchers refer to “fibre”, they’re speaking about not just one substance, but a whole group of different chemical compounds found in foods, including fructo-oligosaccharides, other oligosaccharides (prebiotics), inulin and polysaccharides.
Originally, prebiotics weren’t classified as fibre compounds, but recently research has shown us that these compounds behave the same way as other forms of fibre. Today, prebiotic carbohydrates that have been evaluated in humans largely consist of fructans or galactans [ref], both of which are fermented by anaerobic bacteria in the large intestine.
As reported in Bacteria in the Gut: Friends and Foes and How to Alter the Balance, by R. A. Rastall [ref], using prebiotics is an attractive alternative to the feeding of probiotics, because one can avoid the drawbacks of using probiotic bacteria;- such as maintaining viability. Prebiotics can be incorporated into a wider range of products and are stable to heat treatment, not that this is highly relevant in our raw feeding philosophy.
Unfortunately, there is relatively little work published on the use of prebiotics in companion animals [ref]. Most of the research to date has focused on lactosucrose and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Based on R.A. Rastall's research, the combination of a probiotic with a prebiotic to support its viability and activity has been termed a synbiotic [ref].
The use of prebiotics relies on the adaptability of organisms. Population size (i.e. how many there are of any one type of organism) depends on several factors, including the total amount of food available and the competition from other species of organisms. If one organism can adapt itself to take advantage of a situation that other species cannot, then it will thrive while other species decrease. This is termed "adaptability". In the case of the gut flora, a feature common to the beneficial bacteria is their ability to ferment fibre as we stated above. Pathogens and putrefying bacteria seem less able to do this, so the presence of ferment-able fibre will encourage an increase in beneficial bacteria and a corresponding decrease in pathogens.
Conversely, a poor diet tends to favour the increase of pathogenic bacteria. Prebiotics are substances that are able to alter the gut flora in favour of the beneficial micro-organisms. Ferment-able fibres and in particular fructooligosaccharides (FOS) (also sometimes called oligofructose or oligofructan), are the most effective prebiotics in modifying favourable gut populations and metabolic effects in the gastrointestinal tract.
The effect of probiotics on the gut flora may only be temporary if beneficial populations are not able to multiply faster than the pathogens. Prebiotics lay the foundations for more permanent manipulation of the gut flora by encouraging growth and development of beneficial populations, while limiting the development of pathogens. For maximum effect we recommend considering both pre- and probiotics by using a probiotic supplement along with an adequate supply of ferment-able fibre in the diet.
Manipulation of the gut flora by diet to encourage the growth of beneficial populations has several results including:
- Inhibition of harmful bacteria with corresponding reduction in toxins, carcinogens and putrefactive substances;
- Stimulation of the immune system;
- Increase absorption and utilisation of nutrients;
- Increased synthesis of vitamins;
- Improved stool characteristics;
- Increased production of the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), acetate, butyrate and propionic.
SCFAs are used as metabolic substrates (building blocks) by body tissues and are rapidly absorbed into the epithelial cells of the colon where they are utilised or passed into the blood stream. Butyrate, the end product of the fermentation process, is known to be an important fuel for colonocytes (cells within the colon) in some species and may also be important to dogs. Although fermentation by bacteria is most likely to occur in the colon, some fermentation does take place in the small intestine and dogs fed a diet containing ferment-able fibre usually have large and heavier than normal small intestines with a corresponding increase in mucosal (a layer in the stomach that form part of its defence system) and absorptive surface areas, which together have beneficial effects for your fur kids.
Bacterial populations in the gut require nitrogen for growth. Some of this will come from your fur kids’ diet, but an important source of nitrogen for bacteria in the large intestine is blood urea diffusing (process managed by the liver) into the bowel. It is then broken down by enzymes (ureases) and used by the bacteria for protein synthesis.
This bacterial protein eventually passes out of the animal in the faeces. High populations of bacteria therefore reduce levels of blood urea and lessen the need for it be excreted through the kidneys, so we can add a reno-protective role to the list of benefits of ferment-able fibre in the diet.
Better Gut Health and Improved Digestion
As noted by Dr. Josh Axe, prebiotics wind up stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria (often called “probiotics”) that colonize our gut microflora. Since they act like food for probiotics, prebiotic compounds help balance harmful bacteria and toxins living in the digestive tract, which has numerous health implications, including improving digestion. Research has shown that higher intakes of prebiotic foods can increase numerous probiotic microorganisms [ref], including Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, L. reuteri, bifidobacteria, and certain strains of L. casei or the L. acidophilus-group.
One of the benefits of having good bacteria in the gut is that they’re able to use fibre from the foods that we eat, which would otherwise be non-digestible, as a source for their own survival. As our gut bacteria metabolize otherwise non-digestible fibres from foods, they produce those short-chain fatty acids that help us in many ways. The canine gut operate with similar attributes.
One of these beneficial fatty acids is called butyric acid, which improves the health of the intestinal lining. Short-chain fatty acids also help regulate electrolyte levels in the body, including sodium, magnesium, calcium and water, that are also important for proper digestion, producing bowel movements, preventing diarrhoea and so on.
Changes in the gut microbiota composition are classically considered as one of the many factors involved in the development of either inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome. A 2012 report published in The Journal of Nutrition states that prebiotics, along with probiotics, can help treat many digestive problems [ref], including:
- diarrhoea (especially after taking antibiotics);
- certain intestinal infections and chronic disorders like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis;
- symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS);
- inflammatory bowel disease;
- leaky gut syndrome;
- Candida virus (common in humans).
Enhanced Immune Function and Cancer Protection
A large number of human intervention studies have demonstrated that dietary consumption of certain prebiotic-containing food products can result in statistically significant changes in the composition of the gut microbiota that help improve immunity [ref]. The “prebiotic effect” has been associated with modulation of biomarkers and activities of the immune system, including a reduction of the concentration of cancer-promoting enzymes [ref] and putrefactive (bacterial) metabolites in the gut.
Prebiotics help “improve stool quality (frequency and consistency), reduces the risk of gastroenteritis and infections, improves general well-being and reduces the incidence of allergic symptoms”, according to a report in The British Journal of Nutrition. Prebiotics and probiotics boost immunity because they enhance our ability to absorb important nutrients and trace minerals from the foods we eat. They also effectively help lower the pH in the gut, which inhibits the growth of potential pathogens or damaging bacteria. Research has shown a lot of promise for the immune system–boosting benefits of prebiotics and probiotics consumed together.
In humans, some of the ways these can enhance immunity include offering prevention or treatment of urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, digestive disorders, colds and the flu, cognitive disorders, and even cancers, including colon cancer. We assume that due to the similar nature of the canine digestive system, similar findings would be published if some day more research of this nature becomes available for our fur kids. Often associated with toxic load, colon cancer is an example of a pathology for which a possible role of gut microbiota composition has been hypothesised. Many studies show a reduction in the incidence of tumours and cancer cells [ref] after consuming specific food products with a prebiotic effect.
Prebiotics can help lower inflammation, which is one of the root causes of diseases, including human's number one killer: heart disease. People consuming more prebiotics, and in general eating a high-fibre diet, tend to have healthier cholesterol levels and lower risk markers for cardiovascular diseases. Again, without the substantive scientific studies into the canine digestive system and associated health, we have to assume that due to the similar nature of our systems, we will be able to observe similar findings.
It’s believed that prebiotics and probiotics contribute to improvements in metabolic processes that are tied to both obesity and type-2 diabetes. It also appears that a healthier gut environment turns off autoimmune reactions, helps the body metabolize nutrients including fats, and modulates hormonal and immune functions that control how and where the body stores fats (including in the arteries).
Protection of Bone Health
A 2007 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that prebiotics enhance the absorption of minerals in the body, including magnesium, possibly iron and calcium. All of these are crucial for retaining strong bone bones and preventing fractures or osteoporosis [ref]. In one study, just eight grams of prebiotics a day was shown to have a big effect on the uptake of calcium in the body that led to an increase in bone density.
Did You Know? Natural Tripe is the most natural prebiotic available for your fur kids today. Make sure that you include a meal of tripe at least once a month, if not every week, to ensure that your fur kids obtain all the necessary goodness available from the tripe meals.
What is tripe?
Tripe - the magical mystery meat that dogs crave and humans fear! Tripe seems to be the line in the sand drawn between beginning raw feeders and the “been there, done that” old pros. If you are among the uninitiated, then you will find feeding tripe to be a real treat, as will your fur kids. Not only will tripe provide immense health benefits for your fur kids, it will catapult you to the rank of seasoned raw feeder, just one rung below raw feeders who scoop road kill off the road and tote it home in their trunk to proudly offer as a gift for their furry charges!
Tripe is the stomach of a ruminating (grazing) animal including cows, game and sheep. The unique stomachs of ruminants have four chambers which systematically break down grasses with a slew of digestive enzymes, gastric juices and amino acids.
Why does it have to be green?
The same digestive enzymes and beneficial bacteria that help the ruminant animal digest foodstuff will do the same for your fur kids. Think how much money you can spend on digestive enzymes and probiotics in a bottle and those same wonderful, natural substances are in abundance in green tripe.
Digestive enzymes aid in digestion, meaning the body does not have to expend as much energy when digesting a meal. This means your dog gets the most nutritional benefit from his meals. Digestive enzymes also do much more than aid in digestion: they purify and cleanse the blood and remove toxins, parasites and fungus. They also improve metabolism, hormonal function and boost the immune system.
Cooking destroys digestive enzymes, so it is important that your dog’s tripe is not only green, but raw. If your fur kid eats a cooked or commercial diet, then he may be suffering from enzyme deficiency. The signs of this can include anxiety, lack of energy, chronic diarrhoea and digestive problems, gingivitis, viral and bacterial infections and yeast overgrowth. If your fur kids suffer from any of these disorders, consider the value of adding green tripe to his diet or increasing the amount you currently feed.
As we stated in the introduction, the gut is populated by hundreds of different kinds of bacteria or microflora which are divided into the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. The “bad” bacteria are those responsible for health complaints and some of their members include e- coli, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria. These are the bacteria contained in foods and the environment that could potentially make your fur kids sick: if it weren’t for the protection of the “good” bacteria.
The good bacteria improve immune function simply by out- numbering the bad bacteria and maintaining a healthy microflora in the gut. Green tripe is loaded with Lactobacillus Acidophilus , one of the bacterial “good guys”. Your fur kid’s gut can only feed so many micro-organisms, so the more “good” bacteria he consumes, the less “bad” bacteria will find anything to eat in his gut and they will get crowded out.
Many health issues are caused by imbalance in the microflora. Older dogs are especially prone to this as they tend to have lower levels of beneficial bacteria in their guts. Supplementing your fur kid’s diet with lots of raw, green tripe will help him maintain a healthy balance of microflora, manufacture more B vitamins, and prevent many health disorders.
The Bad News? ...
The rumours you heard are true: tripe stinks!
However, if you are really serious about your fur kid’s health, you will get past the smell. Instead of thinking about the horrific smell, think about all of the great stuff tripe will do for your fur kids. Don’t worry, those dry-heaves will go away with time!
Other Sources of Prebiotics ...
The best alternative natural sources of prebiotics include (if you don't see your way through with tripe):
- acacia gum (or gum arabic)
- raw chicory root
- raw Jerusalem artichoke
- raw dandelion greens
- raw garlic
- raw leeks
- raw jicama
- raw asparagus
- under-ripe bananas
Why then, a natural diet?
Probiotics and prebiotics are also added to some foods artificially and available as dietary supplements. While many food manufacturers now produce foods that are “high in fibre”, many use isolated fibre sources that are difficult to digest; some might even have mild laxative effects.
Therefore, getting fibre and prebiotics from whole, real foods is always going to be your best option for your fur kids and yourselves. Supplementing with a quality probiotic supplement that also includes prebiotics can be beneficial too, but this shouldn’t take priority over feeding a balanced, healthy natural raw diet to your fur kids.
Additional Articles and Videos
Good reference articles & videos further reading available at:
- "Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits", by Roberfroid M, Gibson GR, Hoyles L, McCartney AL, Rastall R, Rowland I, Wolvers D, Watzl B, Szajewska H, Stahl B, Guarner F, Respondek F, Whelan K, Coxam V, Davicco MJ, Léotoing L, Wittrant Y, Delzenne NM, Cani PD, Neyrinck AM, Meheust A, Université Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium (PubMED)
- "Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits", by Joanne Slavin, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota PubMED)