The human body relies on a variety of live bacteria for proper digestion, but they also contribute to regulation of the neurological, immune and endocrine systems. With all the positive press probiotics receive these days, most people have heard about this form of beneficial gut flora. Fewer people have heard about prebiotics.
Prebiotics are soluble plant fibers that assist in maintaining healthy levels of beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotics provide nourishment for the healthy bacteria in the colon. In a sense, prebiotics act as a form of fertilizer or food that helps good bacteria grow. There are many different kinds of prebiotic fibers and each has a different impact on the growth and development of helpful gut bacteria.
Probiotics and prebiotics work together to achieve a proper balance of gut microflora. The term "synbiotics" is used to describe this relationship as well as nutritional supplements that contain both prebiotics and probiotics. In order for a nutritional supplement to be labeled synbiotic, the supplement must produce synergistic health benefits, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The prebiotics must assist in boosting the population of probiotics it's been paired with in the supplement.
Getting the Most Out of Probiotics and Prebiotics
Prebiotics are fermented by gut bacteria, wherever they're found, and can help support bacteria already present in the gut or being introduced by a functional food or dietary supplement. To get the most out of probiotic supplements, take a prebiotic supplement just before a meal and then take a probiotic supplement about at least 30 minutes after taking the prebiotic and finishing the meal. This timeframe allows the body to begin processing the prebiotics so they can work as an effective food source for the probiotics. Food acts as a buffer between stomach acids and live probiotics. Without this buffer, fewer active probiotics will make it through the stomach and into the rest of the digestive system.
In some cases, individuals require specific strains of probiotics. For example, to treat infectious diarrhea, a probiotic strain known as Saccharomyces boulardii is recommended. However, if your goal is to improve your overall health, it's important to choose a multi-strain probiotic formula. Multi-strain supplements may include beneficial live bacteria such as L. acidophilus, S. thermophilus, L. rhamnosus, B. infantis, L. salivarius and B. longum, in addition to other strains. Prebiotics further enhance the benefits of a multi-strain probiotic formula.
Common Uses for Prebiotics and Probiotics
Many people take probiotic supplements to achieve improved intestinal function or to optimize the health of their immune system. By introducing a probiotic supplement to one’s diet, gut dysfunction and other digestive disorders can be prevented or alleviated. A daily routine that includes taking both prebiotics and probiotics will enhance the benefits of introducing good bacteria to the gut.
Many people also choose to introduce probiotics into their diet while taking antibiotics or after they've undergone a round of antibiotics. Antibiotics inhibit or kill bacteria within the body’s system in order to fight off infection or disease. However, helpful bacteria are affected in addition to the harmful bacteria, causing significant imbalance in gut microflora. It’s important to allow at least two hours between taking probiotics and antibiotics. Probiotics are killed by antibiotics, so allowing considerable time between the two is essential.
With all the different types of prebiotics and strains of probiotics available, it may be worth consulting with a trained professional to learn which kinds would most likely benefit a particular circumstance. Probiotics and prebiotics can be helpful for a variety of complaints and conditions and are worth giving a try.