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Gut Flora: Pre-Biotics vs. Probiotics & Dietary Fat - Ongoing Research

First of all, what is “gut flora?”
Intestinal flora, commonly known as “gut flora” makes up the microbiome in any living creature’s digestive track.

Machelle Pacion
Avian Nutrition Specialist
Intestinal Flora:
in·tes·ti·nal flo·ra
inˈtestənl ˈflôrə/Submit
plural noun: intestinal flora
the symbiotic bacteria occurring naturally in the intestine.
(Google Dictionary)
As the definition above indicates, gut flora is the naturally occurring bacteria in the intestines or digestive tract of all healthy creatures.

As I have promised; we will be devoting this entire year of 2018 to improving the gut flora in our feathered friends, as well as ourselves. We must remain healthy to ensure we are alive to care for our exotic birds intrinsically gifted with the longevity of life.

Last month we dove into discussing gut flora, what it is, what it does and different probiotics that can be used to help our birds with proper digestion of nutrients. But "probiotics" are very different from "pre-biotics." Pre-biotics cause healthy gut flora to grow on its own. Probiotics usually need to be fed on a consistent basis; they don't help grow gut flora, that's why we have to feed them to our birds continually. But probiotics do have their place in the diet. They can be used for temporary, specific reasons and are helpful during times of stress or ill-health to boost the digestive tract and help fight off added stress and more illness. But optimally it's best to build up the natural gut flora with pre-biotics as a pre-emptive measure to ward of stress and illness.

Many of us care for birds that have been vaccinated, given multiple doses of antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals. All of these stress the digestive tract murdering the good bacteria necessary for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. It is, for this reason, many of us find ourselves searching for correct "avian" probiotics to feed on a continual basis. 

Bad bacteria populate at a faster and higher rate than good bacteria in the digestive tract. Since bad bacteria can overcome good, it is vitally important for us to feed a healthy diet to our flock, as well as to veer away from drugs and foods that can damage the good bacteria in the digestive tract. 

"SIBO," otherwise known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is the over-population of both bad and/or good bacteria that normally reside in the lower intestine. The beginning of leaky gut happens when bacteria from the lower intestine finds its way to the upper intestine. Once leaky gut begins bacteria, food particles, viruses and fungus can enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, all of these can travel throughout the body, even into the brain; this is the beginning of autoimmune problems and more.

Understanding this premise, offering “probiotics” may not be the correct action if you suspect you or your bird to have already gone past this situation. If you suspect your or your bird to have SIBO and/or leaky gut, it's best to stop all probiotics, let the system clear itself for a couple of weeks and then begin a regimen of pre-biotics. 

We need to populate the upper digestive tract with mostly good bacteria. Knowing that bad bacteria grow faster and in large quantities than good, we need to feed "pre-biotic foods constantly." But even too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing! 

If you know or suspect that you and/or your pet has SIBO and/or leaky gut it's best to clear the system of probiotics, and also all supplements of any kind including vitamin and mineral supplements. Why? Probiotics don't cause more good gut flora to grow; we have to maintain the intake of probiotics for them to continue benefitting the digestive tract. In other words, we are introducing something that isn't living at all. Normally, living substances multiply on their own. Instead, we want to introduce substances that will cause good gut flora to multiply and synthesize new healthy flora on its own. But if we introduce the self-multiplying flora while the "synthetic" flora is in the digestive tract, SIBO may become worsened.

Vitamin C may be the only useful supplement during the cleansing. Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant. It helps maintain the correct acidity of the digestive tract (the stomach needs to be acidic to digest properly - about 1.5 to 3.5). Vitamin C alkalizes blood (blood needs to be slightly alkaline to maintain health - about 7.35 to 7.45) (I will not delve into the "correct form" of Vitamin C in this post, but I prefer one that made from organically grown whole foods with naturally occurring bioflavonoids). It should be our desire and goal to aid the digestive tract in synthesizing vitamins, especially Vitamin K and B12 along with other B vitamins such as folate and biotin. We can achieve this by introducing pre-biotics to the digestive system.

Also, be sure to remove any and all junk food (Anything highly processed). For birds this may even include pelleted foods), refined sweeteners of any kind, kefir fermented with sugar, all dairy (Unless it is raw, unpasteurized.) Include yogurt in this “do-not-feed” list. Also don’t feed kefir made with dairy, sour cream, cottage cheese, butter (Ghee is fine as it does not contain any milk solids)(Nature never intended for birds to consume dairy and therefore left out "lactase" from the host of avian digestive enzymes. Lactase is the digestive enzyme necessary to digest "lactose" in dairy.


We should also remove foods containing gluten (This includes bread, crackers, pastries, cooked grains as well as sprouted grains). Gluten is a very hard-to-digest glue-like protein.


Finally, eliminate all starchy foods. Though some kinds of starch are helpful as a probiotic, starch is made up of hard, waxy molecules which are very difficult to digest. Additionally, starch quickly turns into sugar in the digestive tract, rapidly raising blood glucose levels. Starch also provides the environment for the growth of candida. Of primary importance regarding starch and parrots is the fact that parrots don't produce "amylase" in their mouths (beaks) like humans do. Instead, amylase, a digestive enzyme is not present until starch reaches the lower endocrine system (pancreas). Starch can be much more difficult for a bird's digestive tract to break down than for a human's.


Think of this entire, overall procedure of removing certain foods as an "elimination diet" that will spark the cleansing of the entire digestive tract. 

Before moving forward with the idea of removing all supplements, you need to consider healthy dietary fats/oils as part of the cleansing regimen. Pure, virgin, unrefined, organic oils that are not heat-extracted are not "supplements." Instead, they are "food." Dietary fats are healthy for physical energy, skin, eyesight, joints, soft tissues and especially for brain function considering as much as 70% of the brain is comprised of fat. Remove healthy dietary fat from the diet, and you will eventually begin to experience/see a mental and emotional decline. 

Healthy fats to feed the body and brain are Omega 3s such as DHA, EPA, astaxanthin and Oleic Acid (Omega 9). DHA, EPA, and astaxanthin are all found in animal sources. Oleic acid (Omega 9 for healing the brain and its neurons) is found predominately in plant sources. Fish oils derived from fish living in pristine oceans (Antarctic) are the best to derive DHA, EPA, and astaxanthin. Fish that contain the highest amount of DHA are salmon, sardines, herring, anchovy, tuna, swordfish, and caviar. Using fish or oil from fish that are small in size protects against high levels of oceanic pollutants. So it's best to use the smaller fish instead of, the larger.
Salmon oil may be the best because it normally maintains a near perfect ratio of 1:1 DHA to EPA. Maintain high astaxanthin levels by consumption of Krill oil is importantly beneficial. To maintain healthy levels of Oleic acid Olive Oil from California (specifically California due to the strict processing standards set by COCC that ensure only very high-quality olive oil - even better than oil from the Mediterranian). Omega 6 is required for proper body functions as well, but they are so abundant in so many foods that it is not necessary to purposely "try" to get more Omega 6s in a living creature's diet. Achieving the preferred ratio of the various Omega 3s is vital. Doing so requires the consumption of a combination of different oils.  I suggest the use of organic, high-oleic sunflower oil, but make sure the percent of oleic acid in the oil is at or well above 50%. I use a high-oleic oil that is 80% oleic acid. *Caution, sunflower oil does not contain salicylates or histamines, but it is a histamine releaser that triggers mast cells to leach histamine into the system. Histamine triggers most feather destroyers to pick and pluck more.

Dietary fat has a neutral pH and therefore does not affect the pH of the digestive tract, body or blood. However, it does help coat the digestive tract preventing damage to the mucosal lining which is so very important to overall digestive tract health. Without the mucosal lining, many foods will "burn" through the outer walls of the digestive tract, also contributing to leaky gut. Therefore, healthy dietary fats act as buffers between food and the outer walls of the digestive tract. If the mucosa were not present, the outer walls of the digestive tract would be severely wounded and scarred by the passing of food through the tract hindering the proper absorption of nutrients. I attribute many cases of prolapse and/or PDD to the lack of mucosal lining and the wounding of the outer walls of the digestive tract.

What are other reasons I am so determined to help you understand the importance of dietary fat/oil in the cleansing diet and then maintaining a healthy dietary fat level? Since most living creatures suffer some amount of brain damage from leaky gut, physical trauma, and/or emotional trauma (whether one traumatic event or long-term repetitive trauma setting off C-PTSD or PTSD), even "Broken Heart Syndrome" healthy dietary fats can reverse the damage done to brain neurons. The brain conducts electrical energy, the kind of energy that requires fat to function properly since dietary fat is (should be) the main energy source for most living creatures. Again, brains cannot survive, let alone thrive without high amounts of fat to conduct the energy they need to relay messages throughout the entire nervous system properly. Lack of dietary fat directly affects the digestive tract and how it functions as well as all neurotransmitters affecting mental clarity (thoughts), emotional stability (feelings) and behavior (actions). Remember, it is not only important to feed the physical, but it is also as important to feed the soul. Considering all “parts” of the creature is truly caring for our pets and ourselves in a "holistic" manner.

Now that I have prefaced the requirements of feeding pre-biotics along with healthy dietary fats, what are food sources of each? (Specifically for birds) Humans can consume additional foods that parrots should not consume such as onion, leeks, garlic, shallots, chives, any of the Allium species. These foods contain N-propyl which can potentially destroy red blood cells resulting in Heinz Body Hemolytic Anemia. The debate is still out on this topic due to birds (aves) having nucleated red blood cells opposed to humans (mammals) having red blood cells which are enucleated (without a nucleus). Commonly held theory: due to nucleation of red blood cells birds "may" be able to consume Allium food sources. But like I mentioned, the debate is still out on this subject and therefore "when in doubt leave it out."


  • Green Bananas
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Chicory Root
  • Dandelion leaves and flowers.
  • Berries
  • Pineapple

*A word of caution if you are feeding a feather destroyer: All of the above contain high levels of naturally occurring salicylates and histamines. Both of these food chemicals (constituents) can trigger and exacerbate (increase) the amount of picking, plucking, scratching, skin-tapping, wing-flipping, toe-tapping sneezing, wheezing, coughing and ultimately may lead to anaphylactic shock possibly resulting in death. Feather destroyers should not consume these foods due to autoimmunity disorders. 

Omega 3s & 9s:(Important for healing the brain)

  • Salmon, Sardines, Herring, Anchovies, Tuna*, Swordfish* and Caviar. These should all be sourced wild from pristine ocean waters. These sources are high in the Omega 3 known as "DHA" in high amounts is necessary to aid in the healing of the brain and its neurons. While consuming cooked fish is safe for birds, oil from these fish seems to be more readily absorbed in the digestive tract. Salmon oil may be the best source for both "DHA" and "EPA" since the ratio of each is almost perfect at about 1:1. *Try to stay away from large fish due to oceanic pollution.
  • Krill oil is an excellent source of the Omega 3 known as "astaxanthin" which is a carotenoid. This carotenoid acts as a potent antioxidant and precursor to the synthesizing of Vitamin A. Astaxanthin also supports good eye health. The consumption of astaxanthin is especially important if your bird sits under a UV lamp for Vitamin D production.
  • Organic Macadamia nuts provide Oleic Acid (Omega 9). 
  • Organic Olive Oil provides Oleic Acid (Omega 9). (Pure, virgin, cold-pressed from California. Look for a label that carries the COCC certification of purity)
  • Organic High-Oleic Sunflower Oil provides both Oleic Acid (Omega 9) and naturally occurring Vitamin E (a-tocopherol which has the highest nutritional value of all tocopherols)

Dietary fat must go through an emulsification process, essentially causing fat to become water-soluble before it can be properly absorbed. Emulsification requires bile. If you or your bird do not have healthy livers, then this process is impeded. Work on liver health before feeding additional dietary fats over and above what fats naturally occur in the diet otherwise the liver will not be able to process the fat potentially leading to additional liver damage.

I am presently working on the formulation and development of the correct ratio of oils to produce a proprietary blend of dietary oil for all of us to offer our birds. I believe this new research information is both reliable and very beneficial for all of our birds suffering from overuse of antibiotics, poor diets, brain trauma, arthritis and more. 

I know this is A LOT of information to ingest and digest, but please read it over and over until this information becomes automatic recall for you. You and your feathered friend deserve the very best of health!

©4/4/2018 2:29:56 PM Passion Tree House LLC – All Rights Reserved –

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