What To Know About Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics

Probiotics and Prebiotics are hot topics in nutrition. They may sound alike but they have different roles. Probiotics, Greek meaning “for life”, are live microscopic organisms like bacteria and yeast found in your food which settle in your gut. Your gut has over 500 different types of bacteria and are a normal part of your gut microflora.

We know bacteria is a probiotic if it meets the following criteria: it is alive during the processing and shelf life of the food, it survives digestion and remains alive in the gut, it is not harmful, and brings about a healthy response in the gut. Examples of foods containing probiotics are yogurt with live and active cultures, kefir, fermented soy products, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and some pickled foods.

On the other hand, prebiotics are food or fuel for the bacteria found in fibers in plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains. These fibers are non-digestible by the gut but instead are beneficial for feeding and keeping gut bacteria healthy.

Examples of foods high in prebiotic fibers are oats, whole wheat, beans and legumes, berries, banana, leafy greens, garlic, onion, and asparagus. A food is considered synbiotic if it contains both probiotic bacteria and the prebiotic food to fuel our good bacteria for example, yogurt with sliced banana. By eating a balance of both probiotic foods and prebiotic foods will promote a balance of the healthy growth of the good bacteria in the gut.

Some of the health benefits science is discovering about maintaining a healthy gut microflora and probiotics are the following: improving overall gut health, maintaining regularity of bowel movements, treating diarrhea and constipation, assist in digestion, improve symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Urinary Tract Infections, and improve your immune system against various microbial invaders since your gut is your first line of defense.

Weight control, encouraging normal blood sugar levels, lowering blood cholesterol and blood pressure are also associated with diets rich in probiotics and prebiotics.

We are exposed to a wide variety of both good and bad bacteria throughout our lives, starting at birth, which lay the foundation for our gut microflora. The numbers and types of bacteria in and on our bodies changes over time and good bacteria (our probiotics) can be wiped out with the use of antibiotics, stress, poor diet, or ingestion of harmful bacteria. This can negatively affect our health.

The good news is that the growth of our good bacteria in the gut can be improved by eating foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics. While there is still more research needed, there may be times it is beneficial to take a probiotic supplement. For example, Probiotic supplements may help improve gut microflora when your immune system if down with a cold or flu, when taking an antibiotic, when you are stressed or traveling, or to treat a health condition such as diarrhea or constipation.

Try to choose a probiotic supplement that has several billion colony-forming units (CFU’s) and has a variety of strains because they work best as a team. Also be aware that probiotic supplements are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, but are generally declared safe.

Be sure to tell your physician before you start taking a probiotic supplement as they may interact with prescribed medications.

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