Probiotics and Prebiotics

You’ve probably heard of probiotics and prebiotics, but do you know what they are? Nutrition research has pinpointed specific functional components of foods that may improve health. Probiotics and prebiotics are two such substances. Probiotics may be helpful after bariatric surgery.

The root word of the word probiotic comes from the Greek word pro, meaning “promoting” and biotic, meaning “life.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. They are linked to promoting the growth of good bacteria in your gut. When probiotics are combined they form a synbiotic. Prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal (GI) health as well as potentially enhance calcium absorption. Bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soy beans and whole wheat food contain prebiotics.

A probiotic is defined as a microbial dietary supplement that beneficially affects the host through its effect on the intestinal tract. They are actually the “good bacteria” – or live cultures- just like those naturally found in your gut. These active cultures help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. Our digestive system normally has “good” and “bad” bacteria. Maintaining the correct balance is necessary for optimum health. Medications, diet, disease, and environment can upset that balance.

There are several kinds of probiotics. Their health benefits are determined by the job they do in the gut.

Lactobacillus: They are naturally occurring in the digestive, urinary, and genital systems. Studies have shown some benefits of treating preventing yeast infections, urinary tract infections, antibiotic-related diarrhea, traveler’s diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance and chronic constipation and promote oral health.

Bifidobacteria: They make up most of the healthy bacteria in the colon. They appear in the intestinal tract within days of birth. Studies have shown bifidobacteria can help with irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, dental cavities, improved blood lipids and glucose tolerance.

Saccharomyces boulardii: This is also known as S. boulardii and is the only yeast probiotic. It is effective in preventing traveler’s diarrhea, and treating diarrhea associated with the use of antibiotics. It has also been reported to prevent the reoccurrence of Clostridium difficile, to treat acne and to reduce the side effects of H pylori treatment.

Streptococcus themophilus: This produces large quantities of the enzyme lactase, making it effective in the prevention of lactose intolerance.

The harsh conditions of the GI tract and the negative environment associated with low stomach pH, bile salts and digestive enzymes require that large numbers of probiotic bacteria be consumed to ensure an adequate survive and reach their site of action in the lower GI tract. A probiotic must be consumed daily because they do not colonize the gut and are quickly flushed out when consumption has stopped. Combining prebiotics and probiotics could beneficially affect the host by improving survival and implantation of live microbial dietary supplements in the GI flora.

While some studies have shown many health benefits of probiotics, more research still needs to be done to be sure they are safe and effective as a supplement and in foods. This is especially true for children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with compromised immune systems. For people with suppressed immune systems due to disease (such as HIV) or treatment of disease (cancer chemotherapy), taking probiotics may actually increase your chances of getting sick.

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