Prebiotics Part One

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Prebiotics Part One

All about prebiotics, what they are, and some herbs that we use as powders for helping with gut health.

marshmallow root

The Urban Fringe Gut Protocol

We, at the Urban Fringe Dispensary, love to talk about gut health. We have just put together a combination of prebiotic powders to be used as part of a healthy gut protocol. The powders contain marshmallow root (Althea officinalis), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), burdock (Arctium lappa) and liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and they're carefully formulated to feed your beneficial gut bacteria. With regular use, these powders can contribute to better overall health by reducing inflammation and improving gut immunity.


The gut microbiome is now being recognised as being a major factor involved in human health. An imbalance of gut flora, or dysbiosis, is now known to contribute to inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity and cancer. We know that the food we eat largely determines the diversity of the gut microbiome. For example, studies have shown that a high fat diet can cause dysbiosis which negatively affects human physiology. Recent evidence shows that the metabolic products produced by the gut bacteria play important roles in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal epithelial barrier and therefore impact gut immunity. In particular, bacteria ferment indigestible polysaccharides to produce short-chain fatty acids, which have a profound impact on our physiology and overall health.

What is a prebiotic?

A prebiotic is defined as an indigestible fibre which isn?t broken down by the body, and so serves as a nutrient for bacteria living in the gut and therefore benefits host health.

A healthy gut is like a flourishing ecosystem where micro-organisms with health benefits for the host predominate over potentially harmful organisms. When harmful organisms are not kept in check, we get dysbiosis. Using prebiotics is a way of feeding beneficial micro-organisms and therefore nurturing their populations, so that they in turn can compete successfully against harmful organisms.

Given that the gut plays a pivotal role in our immunity against disease, the use of prebiotics has also been shown to improve immune system function. Prebiotics have been shown to reduce the risk of gastroenteritis and infections, and have a significant impact on the symptoms of allergies - they have demonstrated good efficacy in the treatment of conditions such as atopic eczema.

Since many inflammatory bowel disorders are linked to changes in the gut microbiota composition, some preliminary studies have confirmed beneficial effects through the use of prebiotics and probiotics.

Several experimental studies have also reported a reduction in the incidence of tumours and cancers after eating foods with known prebiotic effects. In these studies, it was the change in gut microbiota composition that was found to have exerted these benefits.

Prebiotics have also shown a positive effect on metabolism, regulation of satiety and body weight, and it has been hypothesised that using prebiotics and probiotics could be a novel way of treating metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

What's in our prebiotic powders?


Liquorice contains glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetic acid, which have been extensively studied for their anti-inflammatory effects. Liquorice also modulates the immune system by inhibiting certain inflammatory pathways. For this reason, it has been used to treat atopic conditions such as asthma and eczema. Liquorice also contains a type of long, branching sugar molecule called arabinogalactans. These molecules are not broken down by digestion, and so provide a source of food for some of our beneficial bacteria. The bacteria break these down in to short chain fatty acids, which are the main source of fuel for the cells lining the colon.


Marshmallow root contains lots of mucilage, which is made up of long chains of sugar molecules called polysaccharides. This mucilage is well known for its ability to soothe the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Again, these indigestible polysaccharides provide a source of food for the bacteria in the colon. It also contains a class of phytochemicals called flavonoids which exert an anti-inflammatory effect on mucous membranes.


Chamomile also contains anti-inflammatory essential oils and flavonoids. Several studies have confirmed the gastroprotective properties of chamomile, especially in the treatment of gastric ulcers. Chamomile also exerts an antimicrobial effect on potentially harmful bacteria, such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Escherichia and Candida.


Dandelion contains a class of phytochemical called sesquiterpene lactones which are known to have anti-inflammatory effects. It also contains phenylpropanoids, which the plant produces to protect itself from environmental stresses. In humans, the metabolism of these phenylpropanoids produces an antioxidant effect and modulates several inflammatory pathways. Dandelion also contains polysaccharides like marshmallow, and the root contains lots of inulin, a class of fibres known as fructans. Inulin has a positive effect on two major families of beneficial bacteria called Bifidobacteria and Faecalibacterium.

It is interesting to note, that recent research from the Human Microbiome Project has identified a distinct lack of Faecalibacerium prausnitzii in patients with Crohn's disease. Small, clinical trials involving faecal microbiota transplantation of Faecalibacterium have shown promising results in patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.


Burdock root contains several caffeoylquinic acid derivatives which have been well researched for their antioxidant activity. Burdock also contains a phenylpropanoid called arctigenin which has been shown to inhibit certain types of allergic inflammation and pro-inflammatory enzymes. Like dandelion root, burdock also contains polysaccharides, sesquiterpene lactones and inulin.

So, we're hoping that our carefully formulated blend of prebiotic powders, with all of their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and immune modulating properties will enable you to improve your gut health as part of a healthy gut protocol. It's a good place to start, especially if you suffer from an inflammatory bowel disorder, skin conditions or allergies. Our prebiotic powders are also suitable for those who just want to maintain long term gut health.

So pop in, and speak to one of our Medical Herbalists for further information or advice.

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