A Belated Food Friday: Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics

What are they ? 

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast which are good for health. The most common is lactobacillus - found in yogurt and fermented foods like kefir, and sauerkraut. Bifodobaceterium is another and is found in some dairy. 

Prebiotics non digestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. Probiotics are dietary substances that favor the growth of beneficial bacteria rather than harmful ones. 

Synbiotics are products that combine probiotics and probiotics. Foods like yogurt have both the organisms and the carbohydrate and so are symbiotic. 

The FDA regulates all these like foods rather than drugs, and has not certified them for treatment of any medical condition. however research suggests some helpful effects. 


What do they do ? 

Probiotics and probiotics help us digest and move food though our gut. Undigested or poorly absorbed food can cause problems such as inflammation, gas and cramps. By helping to normalize digestions, research suggests probiotics and probiotics can help the following: 

  • ease IBS
  • ease inflammatory bowel disease 
  • slow infectious diarrhea 
  • slow antibiotic related diarrhea 
  • help eczema 
  • prevent vaginal infections 
  • prevent allergies 
  • foster mouth health 


Should you use them ? 

People who are healthy can use probiotics and probiotics without problems. They have few side effects except gas. On the other hand, those that have serious medical problems should consult their doctor before using them. No one should substitute complementary therapies such as these for prescribed conventional therapies. 

Their exact mechanism of action is unclear. What is clear is that we live colonized with organisms. It is also clear that some populations of organisms are healthier for us that others. Probiotics, probiotics and synbiotics move us back towards a spectrum of organisms which foster better health. 

You can get probiotics as tablets or “ shots” i.e. tiny concentrated drinks. However, my favorites are plain homemade yogurt, kefir, and all kinds of sauerkraut. Smoothies made with plain yogurt or kefir with whole fruit have a delicious tanginess. I like to enjoy my probiotics.