Fundamentals of Resistant Starches for Gut Health

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


Improving digestions using resistant starchesThe study of gut health is becoming increasingly important in research on physical health overall. There has been a large focus on probiotic supplements and the restoration of gut bacteria, but new evidence suggests that resistant starches, or prebiotics, are possibly a better method of bringing gut health back to optimal conditions. This has implications for gut microflora and wellness programs everywhere.

Differentiating Probiotics and Prebiotics

The discussion over the benefits of prebiotics vs. probiotics is a newer development in health circles. There are some main differences between the two that have an impact on their relative health benefits. Traditionally, the preference has been for probiotic supplements for gut health because of their microorganism’s ability to colonize the intestines, leading to healthier digestion and increased nutrient absorption.

Probiotics can be a great way to help the intestine. However, problems tend to recur because the microorganisms in many probiotic supplements are transitory. Because of this, they tend to lose their effect once the supplement has left the system. They don’t normally leave bacterial colonies in place once they have moved on, and whatever deficiencies were present tend to take hold again. Probiotics mostly work well in the short-term, as long as you keep up with consistent use.

In contrast to fast acting probiotics, prebiotics are a long-term approach to gut health. Though not an immediate fix, they are a preventative agent for longevity and forward thinking results. Consuming foods with resistant starches can help you regain the natural composition of intestinal microbiota without supplements. Prebiotics, or natural starches, are readily available in a number of foods discussed below. They are a great way to take care of the long-term health of your gut, and gut health has a major influence on the health of your entire body.

It’s necessary to note that probiotics are essential to the health of some people with certain issues. If you have any questions as to whether you should be using dietary supplementation with probiotics, please consult your healthcare provider for more information. Likewise, prebiotics can be a bad choice for some people with allergies or reactivities that require extra caution when eating something new. Always act with care and research thoroughly before making any changes.

Defining Resistant Starches

The reason these foods are called resistant starches is because they are resistant to digestion. They have a natural resistance to stomach acids and bile, so they pass through the intestinal tract unchanged. Another term often used in the medical community for resistant starches is ‘indigestible starch’. It is sometimes referred to as the third fiber, a relative of soluble and insoluble fibers.

Resistant starches don’t provide the body with any energy because they are not digestible. However, even though resistant starches don’t give you energy, they feed healthy gut bacteria in the same way that soluble fiber does. Gut microflora and resistant starches maintain a symbiotic and beneficial relationship throughout the body.

This is a relatively new area of study, and we don’t entirely know how prebiotics work, but what is known makes them out to be quite valuable in the realm of gut health. However, take a balanced approach and decide what’s right for you.

Types of Resistant Starch

There are four types of resistant starches; three are found in foods. The first type is found in seeds and legumes. The next type is found in various raw foods, such as raw potatoes and green bananas. The third type is found in foods that are cooked and cooled, like potatoes, pasta, and rice. The fourth type is chemically modified to be indigestible.

Benefits of Resistant Starches

There are some excellent benefits from consuming resistant starches as your prebiotics.

The benefits of resistant starchesOne benefit is that many soluble fiber foods cause a side effect of excess gas, while resistant starch foods usually do not. That might not be a consideration for everyone, but if you can get the same benefits with less gas, it’s mostly preferred this way.

Another benefit is that you can consume much larger quantities than traditional prebiotics. This allows the gut to build a long-term healthy bacteria colony that is much more resistant to attacks from the outside. There is no shortage of things that can hurt gut health, so it helps to have microflora cultures that are strong and developed. This helps your body absorb nutrients and fight off sickness.

Balanced Prebiotics

In addition to resistant starches, other forms of prebiotic and probiotics are a good idea. Consider the full spectrum of gut health to best feed your gut bacteria. Taking a balanced approach that incorporates many options is the best way to maintain an effective ecosystem in your gut.

Making The Change

When choosing foods that will benefit your gut health, there is a long list from which to draw inspiration. Focus on sustainable and manageable practices that you will be able to use for years to come.

A few foods are high in resistant starch and easy to find and cook with.

Cashews are one of the best sources of resistant starches. They also have numerous other health benefits, including providing high protein and great energy. Cashews are a good choice for someone who is concerned about keeping carbohydrate intake low, and they can also be consumed raw.

A second, versatile option is white, black, and red beans. Beans are low calorie, high fiber, high protein, and extremely rich in resistant starches. Beans are extremely healthy and excellent prebiotics. You can try soaking the beans for a period of time to reduce the gas effects.

Making changes to your diet will always come with challenges. If you are considering using new resistant starch foods as ways to improve your diet, make sure you implement changes slowly. This will allow you to observe what the changes are doing to make you feel different. Slow change is the best way to ensure your choices are best for you.

Resistant Starches Help Stress Recovery

Adding foods to improve your gut health can help you recover from stress and maybe even anxiety. To understand why this is the case, you must first understand how stress affects the body and the way in which it is processed.

The system that the body uses to combat stress is known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. A major part of this system is the hormonal circuit, consisting of your thyroid, adrenals, and gonads. These glands have an effect on everything from blood sugar levels to cardiovascular rhythms. This effect is mainly due to an extraordinary hormone that is released by the adrenal glands: cortisol, the stress hormone.

Resistant starches are linked to the NEM Stress Response through the standard effects of cortisol are and how they can damage the body. One of the first things that cortisol does is raise blood sugar levels by taking glucose from the liver. This provides energy, but in individuals with chronic stress, it can lead to insulin resistance over time, especially for people with other risk factors. Resistant starches help to balance blood sugar levels, and therefore aiding in recovery from stress. They won’t help the blood sugar spike that comes when the adrenals release cortisol, but they will help lower blood sugar after the response is over.

Inflammation and Prebiotics

Inflammation can cause problems all over the body if left unchecked. Though several factors contribute to the inflammatory response, a major cause is cortisol output. When the adrenal glands release cortisol on a continual basis, they eventually tire and can’t keep up with demand. Cortisol reduces inflammation, so a drop in cortisol causes an increase in inflammation, especially when stress is still present. When this occurs, it is known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Inflammation and resistant starchesSomeone with AFS has cortisol levels that are unpredictable or too low, which often allows inflammation to take hold throughout the body. AFS mostly derives from chronic stress or traumatic stress that exhausts the NEM Stress Response. It can happen over a long period of time or quickly, depending on health prior to the stress.

Prebiotics have a role in recovering from AFS because they can help to reduce inflammation naturally, without the use of cortisol. This lessens the burden on the adrenal glands, allowing them to rest between times of stress. When the adrenal glands are allowed to recover properly, the stress response can more easily return to normal functioning. Cortisol levels are more likely to be sufficient, resulting in more stable conditions in the body.

There are many causes of inflammation, and even though AFS is a common cause, there isn’t a guarantee that it’s what’s causing yours. If you have any concerns as to where your inflammation is coming from, contact a clinical professional to help guide you. The body is so complex that it is often very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the problem is coming from. It’s always better to be well informed before making choices that might not be right for you.

Immunological Response and AFS

Resistant starches have an important role in the immunological health of the body due to their effect on gut bacteria. Because gut bacteria plays a major role in supporting the body’s immune system, keeping it healthy is key to maintaining the ability to fight off colds and viruses. This is especially important for those with AFS because their systems are already weakened.

When the body is suffering from AFS, revitalizing with prebiotics is vital. Prebiotics are a long term solution to strengthening the immune system and increasing nutrient uptake. They can be introduced as a mainstay that doesn’t need to be changed over time. You can also choose which types of prebiotic foods work best for you. This can help keep your gut healthy for a healthier immune system and an easier path towards adrenal recovery.

Conclusion

Resistant starches for a healthy digestionHaving a healthy gut is imperative to a properly functioning NEM Stress Response and for adrenal gland function. Consuming probiotic supplements has an important short-term role for the health of your intestinal microflora, but for long-term health, something else is required. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are able to support the gut microbiota long-term by providing them with the necessary ingredients for the fermenting process. This provides your microbiome with what it needs to thrive.

Resistant starches, an important form of prebiotic, are easy to find in foods and also easy to bring into your diet. They are an excellent choice for implementation into a balanced health protocol. Maintaining a balance of probiotics and prebiotics is necessary for overall gut health, and neither of them should be discounted or ignored. They are both part of a balanced and thoughtful approach to your long-term health.

 
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The health of the gut requires a balance of both resistant starches and probiotics. Neither is more important than the other, and both need attention. If one becomes too dominant, issues in digestion can arise.


Resistant starches