Probiotics and Prebiotics. Why are they beneficial?

Seems like there has been a surge lately in the popularity of Probiotics and Prebiotics.  As a result we now see commercials for foods and medications with “Probiotics” in them.  We have been touting the benefits of both Probiotics and Prebiotics for years.  Here’s why…

Probiotics are bacteria, actual living organisms that are useful and conducive to symbiotic life with the human body.  They rely on us for food and environment and we benefit by them setting up residence within our body.  While we have certain strains of beneficial bacteria in and even on most areas of the body, when we refer to “probiotics” is typically to reference those live bacteria (flora) residing in our gut which includes the stomach and the lower or large intestine.

We all have a certain population of flora in our gut.  It is the exact type of live bacteria that resides in each and every human that can become unbalanced – good vs. bad and their quantities.  The body’s environment is the major determining factor in the balance.  Most research shows a list of 8-10 strains of bacteria that fit the term probiotic but nailing down an exact list is difficult.  There are even strains that are not naturally found living in the gut, but have benefits at different times.  It could be in response to a challenge within the body (i.e., illness, change in diet, etc).  Some bacteria are useful just by their travels through our systems (referred to as transitory probiotics).  A simple and very incomplete list of functions commonly attributed to probiotics include natural antiobiotic production, synthesis of the families of vitamins K and B.  Also the regulation of bowel movements and the breaking down of fiber, food materials and even toxins.

Prebiotics are food for probiotics.  While beneficial bacteria can and do feed on much of our waste material, they actually thrive on fiber.  More specifically they thrive on fructans  (sugars and fiber) like inulin and fructooligosaccarides (FOS).  Fructans naturally come from fresh, whole vegetables and fruits.  Unfortunately, the average diet does not contain nearly enough of each.  Prebiotics are thus seen as very useful in establishing and maintaining a healthy probiotic population.

The word probiotic comes from Greek and Latin words meaning for life.  The probiotic colony, made up of many different strains of friendly flora, contributes to our health by:

  • producing natural antibodies and lactic acid that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast
  • aiding bowel regulation (constipation/diarrhea)
  • producing B vitamins, including B12
  • producing enzymes which aid in the breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients
  • boosting the immune system
  • protecting us from bowel diseases
  • preventing food allergies, including lactose intolerance
  • helping remove toxins from the gut
  • producing a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels

The destruction of probiotics is unfortunately easy as probiotics are fragile, and these precious bacteria are easily killed by such things as:

  • medications, especially antibiotics
  • excess alcohol
  • poor diet and carbonated drinks
  • birth control pills
  • stress, lack of sleep
  • poor digestion
  • laxatives

The consequences of a weakened or destroyed colony:

  • gas and bloating
  • irritable bowel
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • yeast infections (candida)
  • intestinal infections (dysbiosis)
  • decreased nutrient absorption
  • decreased B vitamin levels
  • lowered immune response

There is a need to restore and preserve a healthy flora colony after taking antibiotics or other medications; it is obvious that replenishment of probiotics is needed.  But when we consider that even stress is known to destroy them, then a daily maintenance dose is in order.  Replenishment of probiotics quickly returns the flora balances to normal, which has been shown to result in numerous health benefits such as: helping relieve constipation, lowering the frequency and duration of diarrhea, improving blood lipids, reducing production of intestinal toxins, inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria, and preventing up to 50% of infections occurring after antibiotic use.

The benefits of probiotics is endless so make sure you have plenty in your daily diet!  You can’t go wrong!