The gut is the largest immune organ.
It hosts trillions of bacteria. In a healthy gut, these bacteria are friendly and helpful. They assist food digestion and absorption, they interact with the immune system, they synthesize B vitamins, they help break down bile acids and help keeping bad bacteria at bay.
More evidence is surfacing all the time on how important their jobs really are.
There is evidence of their benefit to immune function, weight management, even mental health.
Because these bacteria are living organisms, they are not immune to destruction. A number of things can kill the good bacteria or disrupt the equilibrium in the gut. Antibiotics, poor diet, even stress.
When the delicate balance is lost, all kinds of things can go wrong and not only in the digestive system itself.
That's when probiotics come in.
Probiotics are live microorganisms supplemented to help restore the balance that was lost. Sounds simple, doesn't it? When the good bacteria gets lost, you just replace it? Well, it is not that simple after all.
The gut houses over 700 species of bacteria. It is really its own ecosystem. And research is showing that the structure of this ecosystem varies by species, or even by individual.
Different bacterial species fulfill different functions.
For example, Lactobacilli are the ones producing B vitamins, while Bifidobacterium help break down bile acids ...
Probiotic supplements often contain one or two bacteria species.
The one I know that has the most contains ten different bacteria species. Is supplementing that good enough to restore the original equilibrium?
Then there is the issue how many of that bacteria actually make it to live another day. Are they alive or viable when ingested? Do they survive the stomach environment and make it to their destination? And if they make to to where they should, will they survive?
That's when prebiotics come in.
Simply put, prebiotics are fermentable fiber. The dog's body cannot digest them, but the microorganisms ferment these and that's what they live on.
Moreover, this fermentation produces short-chain fatty acids, which are important for the health of the gut lining.
Without a supply of prebiotic fiber, beneficial bacteria will not survive.
Whether the bacteria was in the gut originally, or supplemented, it needs to be nourished.
Once I watched a documentary from a health and wellness camp. Part of the process was restoring proper gut microflora. The participants were divided into two groups. One group was supplemented with probiotic, and the other got prebiotic fiber. Then their microflora counts were measured.
The group supplemented with prebiotic fiber showed much higher counts of beneficial bacteria than the group supplemented with the bacteria directly.
For any of these reasons I believe that prebiotic fiber is extremely important.
It might help replenish the various species of beneficial bacteria which got depleted, as long as there are any of them left. And it will facilitate the survival of those you're supplementing with a probiotic.
For more interesting information on the subject, check out Radio Pet Lady Network, Pet Food Advisors podcasts #7036 and #7037.