Probiotic. Prebiotic. Am-I-turning-biotic?!

Yogurt, Kefir, pro and pre-biotic pills, what is all the fuss about?

Probiotics are bacteria that help maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines. The normal human digestive tract contains around 400 types of probiotic bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria all the while promoting a healthy digestive system. The largest, and best known group of probiotic bacteria in the intestine is lactic acid bacteria, which is found in yogurt with live cultures. 

Probiotics can provide multiple benefits for your immune system. When probiotics are abundant in your body, it is harder for bacteria that cause illness to latch on. Some also keep you healthy by making bacteriocins, which suppress the growth of harmful bacteria.

Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food ingredients that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. Simply put, they are "good" bacteria promoters. Prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal (GI) health as well as potentially enhance calcium absorption.

Basically, probiotics are used to treat problems in the stomach and intestines. Whereas pre-biotics are used to keep the gut constantly healthy.

Though they are available as dietary supplements, it is not necessary to use special pills, potions, cleanses, or other concoctions to incorporate prebiotics and probiotics into your diet. These "nutrition boosters" are natural ingredients in everyday food.

Probiotics in Your Diet

To obtain more probiotics, enjoy fermented dairy foods like yogurt, kefir products, and aged cheeses, which contain live cultures, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Plus some non-dairy foods which also have beneficial cultures, including kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and soy beverages.

Prebiotics in Your Diet

Prebiotics foods include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods.

What types of conditions do people actually use probiotics for?

Many people use probiotics to prevent diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics. Antibiotics kill "good" (beneficial) bacteria along with the bacteria that cause illness. A decrease in beneficial bacteria may lead to digestive problems. Taking probiotics may help replace the lost beneficial bacteria. This can help prevent diarrhea. If you have diarrhea a probiotc may be just what you need. Probiotics can also help prevent infections in the digestive tract, and help with IBS/IBD (Irritable bowel syndrome/disorder)

Probiotics are being studied for the benefits in colon cancer and skin infections. 

Probiotic therapy may also help people with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical trial results are mixed, but several small studies suggest that certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn’s disease and the recurrence of pouchitis (a complication of surgery to treat ulcerative colitis).

Because these disorders are so frustrating to treat, many people are giving probiotics a try before all the evidence is in for the particular strains they’re using. More research is needed to find out which strains work best for what conditions.

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What Makes Prebiotics and Probiotics the "Dynamic Duo?"

Ultimately, prebiotics ("good" bacteria promoters) and probiotics ("good" bacteria) work together in synergy. Products that combine these together are called synbiotics. On the menu, that means enjoying bananas atop yogurt or stir-frying asparagus with tempeh is a win-win.

So be sure to include food sources of prebiotics and probiotics on your grocery shopping list, taking the time to double check labels when at the market.

The bottom line: At minimum, prebiotics and probiotics are keys for good gut health. Incorporating health-promoting functional foods, such as foods containing prebiotics and probiotics, into the diet potentially aids in creating a healthier you.

Just be sure to check the sugar content in that yogurt you think is good for you!! Make sure you are selecting something with low sugar, not low fat.

Here's to happy tummies.

Written by Jessica Eastwood