What are prebiotics?

I know about Probiotics, but what are prebiotics?”

Taking a course of probiotics after an illness treated by antibiotics has been a health hack for those in-the-know for some time.

Our modern urban lifestyles, processed foods, antibiotics, antacids, excess alcohol and stress can all impact the delicate balance of our gut bacteria and so taking a probiotic supplement on occasion can be a useful way of righting wrongs!

What are Prebiotics? 

Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. Probiotics go some way to ensuring positive commensal gut bacteria in the first place and prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria to keep them there!

Are they essential to health?

Prebiotics help gut bacteria produce nutrients for your colon cells and lead to a healthier digestive system. One of the nutrients produced as a by-product of prebiotics is n-butryrate, a short-chain fatty acid that is responsible for carbohydrate metabolism; along with acetate and propionate, which contribute towards the health of the intestines. These fatty acids can also be absorbed into the bloodstream and improve metabolic health.

Prebiotics help gut bacteria produce nutrients to keep your gut healthy

As a nutritional therapist, I frequently run a functional CDSA (Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis) stool test with clients to see the exact bacteria in their gut, any imbalances of the gut bacteria (known as dysbiosis) which may lead to bloating and/or digestive complaints, or if parasites or infectious agents are present.

Based on these stool tests, I then make bespoke nutrition suggestions to clients to optimise their digestion and gut bacteria balance.

Did you know our gut bacteria and microbiome have the capacity to change in just 3-5 days!

Four commonly used prebiotics

Here are some prebiotic foods I sometimes recommend in my clinic:

  1. Chicory Root

Chicory root is popular for its coffee-like flavour and antioxidant properties. I

t’s also a great source of prebiotics. Around 47% of chicory root fibre comes from the prebiotic fibre, inulin, which nourishes the gut bacteria, improves digestion and helps relieve constipation. It can also help increase bile production, which improves fat digestion

  1. Jerusalem Artichoke

The Jerusalem artichoke, also known as the “earth apple,” has great health benefits. It provides about 2 grams of dietary fibre per 100 grams, 76% of which comes from inulin.

They are high in thiamine and potassium which help the nervous system and muscular strength as well as facilitating transporting the energy from food into each cell.

Jerusalem artichokes may help strengthen the immune system and prevent certain metabolic disorders.

  1. Garlic
    Garlic is a tasty herb, full of antioxidants and praised for its anti-microbial properties. About 11% of garlic’s fibre content comes from inulin and 6% from a sweet, naturally occurring prebiotic called fructooligosaccharides (FOS).

Garlic acts as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria in the gut. It also prevents disease-promoting bacteria from growing.00:01

  1. Asparagus

Asparagus is a popular vegetable, thought by many to have aphrodisiac qualities and it is another great source of prebiotics.

The inulin content maybe around 2-3 grams per 100-gram serving. This serving also contains around 2g of protein.

Asparagus has been shown to promote friendly bacteria in the gut and to have anti-inflammatory properties.

To find a prebiotic you like from one of thirty prebiotic foods, search ‘Prebiotics’ in the Superfied search bar on the Resources page

To find the prebiotics right for your needs right now search in your Superfied Spac

This self-care health hack is from Superfied expert nutritionist Karen Preece Smith

To find a prebiotic you like from one of thirty prebiotic foods, search ‘prebiotics’ in the Superfied search bar 


HRV and why it matters

When it comes to markers of health, Heart Rate variability (HRV) is considered one of the best objective metric markers for your physical fitness and for determining your body’s readiness to perform. But what exactly is HRV a marker of, and, perhaps more importantly, which lifestyle habits should we embrace in order to improve it?

What is heart rate variability?

As a measurement, Heart rate variability is simply the variance in time between the beats of your heart. You may be surprised to learn that within a resting heart rate, recorded as 70 beats per second, for example, the heart beats themselves are not evenly spaced out at one second apart, but are randomly spaced.

The millisecond time variance between the most widely spaced heartbeats within a one-minute period (known as RR intervals – the spiked lines visible on an EKG machine), give the HRV number. The greater this variability is, the more primed your body is to perform at a high level.

HRV as a nervous system marker

Whilst the link between HRV and performance makes this a useful marker for sport and athletic ability, perhaps even more interesting, is that the origins of this marker are from within your own autonomic nervous system, which regulates all body processes, such as blood pressure and breathing.

Your autonomic nervous system has two separate branches: parasympathetic (associated with ‘rest and digest’) and sympathetic (associated with ‘fight or flight.’) The parasympathetic nervous system is activated by slower breathing, yoga, meditation and mindfulness and results in a decrease in heart rate. The sympathetic branch reflects responses to external ‘stressors’ such as work deadlines, environmental pollution, processed foods and/or cardiovascular exercise and increases your heart rate.

Heart rate variability evolves from these two competing branches simultaneously sending signals to your heart. If your nervous system is balanced, your heart is constantly being told to beat slower by your parasympathetic system, whilst being told to beat faster by your sympathetic system. This causes a fluctuation in your heart rate: HRV.

HRV is the variance in time between the beats of your heart

Lifestyle and HRV

Having a high heart rate variability therefore is a sign that your nervous system is balanced, as your body is responsive to both sets of inputs (parasympathetic and sympathetic). A balanced body is more adaptive to internal and external changes within our ever-changing modern, urban environment.

A low HRV indicates that one branch of your nervous system (in most cases, your sympathetic branch) is more dominant. If you are actively running a race, this could be beneficial, yet more frequently it is a sign that  your body is working hard for some other reason (maybe you’re fatigued, dehydrated, stressed, or sick and in need of recovery). This leaves fewer resources available to dedicate towards exercising, competing, giving a presentation at work, sorting out a relationship difficulty etc.

Studies have shown that heart rhythm patterns provide a useful insight into our inner state and differing patterns have been recorded for a state of anger and frustration than to a sense of calm appreciation. Spending longer in a relaxed emotional state can have positive effects on our physiology, leading to improved sleep patterns, energy, mood, digestion and absorption.

How can you improve Heart Rate Variability?

As normal HRV is known to decrease with age, what can we do to maintain it? 

1. Pranyama breathing
This is a fantastic way to evoke the parasympathetic nervous system as it is particularly stimulated by breathing for long, deep breaths of around a 10 second cycle. Try inhaling for a count of 3, holding for 4 and exhaling for 5 counts. Yoga is another great way to connect movement to breath and improve your HRV.

2. Eating a healthy, balanced diet
A balanced whole food diet (such as the Mediterranean diet) has been associated with raised HRV as it is a known anti-inflammatory diet and inflammation lowers HRV. The phytonutrients, contained within a rainbow of muti-coloured vegetables and some fruits, contain antioxidants to boost the body’s ability to buffer environmental toxins. Healthy fats such as omega 3 and, found in oily fish and extra virgin olive oil, also have heart-protective qualities and help lower cholesterol and high blood-pressure. Removing potential inflammatory foods, such as caffeine and alcohol and high-sugar processed foods, also reduces the stress burden on your body. A nutritional therapist can help you to identify hidden food intolerances that may be keeping your HRV low.

3. Sleep
The first four hours of sleep are responsible for producing testosterone and human growth hormone factor. During this time the body also consolidates long-term memory, which is beneficial to emotional health and for minimising depression and anxiety. Avoid caffeine after 2pm to aid sleep and wear an eye-mask or use blackout blinds to encourage melatonin production, which triggers sleep.

4. Cold showers
Research shows that a cold shower before bed, not only improves HRV, but also maintains it through the night and into the next morning! Brrrr…

5. Heart training
Many individuals like to train their HRV by monitoring their heart rhythm patterns using a technological tool such as Heart Math (heartmath.com) daily, to encourage more of a parasympathetic nervous system response to stress and to ease anxiety.

More information:
Heart rate variability
HRV: influence of nutrition on health 

This self-care health hack is from Superfied expert nutritionist Karen Preece Smith

Find our more about the Superfied Way

Rosacea: from ‘red hot’ to ‘not’

What’s rosacea and what causes it?

Rosacea is a chronic skin condition, thought to affect 1 in every 10 people in the UK and more than 16 million Americans. It occurs most frequently between the ages of 30-55 years and appears to affect women more than men.

Primary symptoms are a redness to the skin, along the nose, cheeks and/or forehead, often accompanied by small, red, pus-filled bumps. These bumps appear cyclically and are referred to as a ‘flare-up,’ lasting for weeks or a month at a time, before abating.

The exact cause of rosacea is still unknown, but its origins are thought to be caused by a combination of the following hereditary and environmental factors:

  • Genetics – Rosacea often runs in families, suggesting a genetic link. However, the specific genes involved have not yet been identified.
  • Blood vessel abnormalities – Abnormalities in the blood vessels are thought to be a contributing factor which could explain flushing, redness and visible blood vessels.
  • Demodex Follicularum – This is a tiny mite which usually lives harmlessly on human skin and often carries the bacterium, Bacillus oleronius. Experts have found that higher numbers of the mites are found on people with rosacea, although it is not known whether this is a cause or effect of the condition.
  • Helicobacter pylori bacteria– This is a common bacteria, found in the digestive system and it is thought that it could stimulate the production of a protein known as bradykinin, which can trigger the expansion of blood vessels, leading to the symptomatic redness on the faces of rosacea- sufferers.

Common triggers for a flare up

Sufferers of rosacea may notice that certain triggers may make their symptoms worse; So, identifying and limiting exposure to these, may be a way of controlling symptoms and flare-ups. Whilst different individuals will report different triggers, here are some commonly reported ones:

• Alcohol (particularly red wine, or champagne or beer for some people)
• Caffeine
•Eating items that contain the compound cinnamaldehyde, such as cinnamon, chocolate, tomatoes, and citrus
• High blood pressure
• Cold weather
• Dairy products, such as yoghurt, cheese or sour cream.
• exposure to wind
• Hot baths
• Hot weather
• The presence of cathelicidin (a protein that protects the skin from infection)
• Humidity
• Steroid cream (when used excessively or continually)
• Spicy foods and ‘hot’ spices like paprika, cayenne, cumin and black pepper
• High histamine foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate and vinegar
• Strenuous exercise
• Stress
• Sun damage / exposure


Cut out potential culprits

As rosacea currently has no known cure, it is often treated with a regime of antibiotic creams administered by a GP. Yet, there are several other techniques that can be used to minimise symptoms of the skin condition.

Many people find their skin calms down after moving away from abrasive skincare products that contain witch hazel, strong exfoliants, menthol or alcohol. Replace these products with gentle or organic formulations, suitable for sensitive skin.

The Think Dirty app serve as a useful tool for checking the ingredients of popular skincare or household products for potentially inflammatory chemicals. Wearing a protective sunscreen on your face, containing a high spectrum SPF and avoiding direct sunlight, can also be useful. This is especially important if your skincare contains retinol (vitamin A), which may make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Avoiding drinking alcohol can also help reduce redness and flushing of the face.

Perhaps the single most important step in reducing the symptoms of rosacea, is to keep a food-symptom diary and note any foods associated with the cyclical aspect of rosacea, where consumption of a specific food is swiftly followed by a flare-up. Some foods we commonly consume as part of a Western diet are known, ‘Inflammatory foods.’ These are largely processed foods which contain gluten (from wheat products) and sugar in high ratios.

Eating and treating rosacea naturally

You may have an unknown food allergy and/or sensitivity which could be contributing to the inflammatory response in your body driving rosacea outbreaks. Other issues such an imbalance of B vitamins, gut bacteria imbalance (dysbiosis), poor blood sugar balance and low stomach acid can also be supported clinically. A registered nutritional therapist can help you identify that if you can’t pinpoint it yourself.

If you have rosacea, it may be advisable to follow an anti-inflammatory diet (popular in the Mediterranean), containing leafy greens, whole grains, a rainbow of vegetables and some fruits (which are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients), and oily fish (Think SMASH: Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring) a few times a week.

A few key foods and natural treatments, which have been researched as supportive for rosacea, include:

1. Green Tea
Green tea has various anti-inflammatory properties that can possibly reduce redness and inflammation on the skin. Make yourself a regular cup of green tea and keep it in the fridge for about 40-45 minutes. After 45 minutes, take a clean piece of cloth and soak it in the cup. Once this is done, massage it over the affected areas for symptomatic relief.

2. Aloe Vera
Ayurveda speaks highly of aloe vera and its skin healing benefits.  Pluck a fresh leaf from an aloe vera plant and extract the gel from it by squeezing lightly. Apply the aloe vera gel over the affected areas and wash it off with cold water.

4. Probiotics
In certain cases, rosacea is thought to be triggered by an imbalance in the microorganisms that live in our gut and on our skin. Certain foods promote good bacteria in the body, which may help to reduce rosacea symptoms. Prebiotic foods, such as asparagus, garlic and onions may help to keep the gut environment healthy for good bacteria. Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, kefir, miso and kombucha, may help to add more beneficial microorganisms to your intestines.

5. Essential oils
Essential oils like lavender, jasmine, rose, tea tree, thyme etc. have anti-inflammatory and healing properties, that can do wonders for your skin. Add 2-3 drops of any essential oil to a few drops of a carrier oil, such as almond or coconut, and apply it over the affected area before sleeping. Do not use on broken skin.

More information:
Relationship between Rosacea and Dietary Factors

This self-care health hack is from Superfied expert nutritionist Karen Preece Smith

Find out more about the Superfied Way

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