Although probiotics have been around for some time, it has only been recently that research has looked into the fuel that supports the growth of this “good bacteria”. Probiotics are defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.” They are beneficial bacterial strains that can be ingested through the diet in the form of naturally fermented foods or supplements. Prebiotics are non-digestible dietary compounds that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. By supporting the growth of good bacteria, prebiotics help maintain a healthful balance of good vs. disease-promoting “bad” pathogens. This combination is referred to as Synbiotics as they are working synergistically to benefit the host. An imbalance is called Dysbiosis, and this has possible links to diseases of the intestinal tract that include ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and Crohn's disease, as well as more systemic diseases such as obesity and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The primary dietary sources of probiotics include fermented products from milk (yogurt, kefir and buttermilk), from vegetables (sauerkraut and kimchi) and from soy (miso and tempeh). The most common species are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus and Saccharomyces boulardii (yeast). They are all highly sensitive to environmental factors and need to be consumed as closed to manufacturing date as possible. Their specific benefits are determined by the job that they do in the gut so it is important to ask your physician which one you should be looking for. Some supplements contain several different strains which may be recommended based on the symptoms involved.
Most of the prebiotics identified are oligosaccharides. They are resistant to digestive enzymes that work on all other carbohydrates and pass through the upper GI system without being digested. They ferment in the lower colon and nourish the beneficial microbiota that live there. These identified carbohydrates can be synthesized or obtained from natural sources, which include asparagus, artichoke, bamboo shoots, banana, barley, chicory, leeks, garlic, honey, leeks, lentils, milk, mustards, onion, rye, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane juice, sunchoke and tomato. The health benefits from these oligosaccharides is a topic of ongoing research and the science is evolving.
According to research and various studies, ingestion of supplements or natural food sources which promote gastrointestinal health may- improve calcium absorption, alleviate IBS symptoms, reduce energy intake and markers of insulin resistance, improve weight management by increasing satiety and decreasing appetite, prevent specific allergies, and may reduce the duration, incidence and symptoms of diarrhea. Daily consumption is considered best to maintain benefits. In 2016, there is expected to be an increase in foods and beverages that have been probiotic fortified, such as fruit juices, cereals and waters. Some companies are exploring the gut/bran connection and will possibly have some baked goods available in the near future.
REFERENCES: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, WebMD, MedicineNet and Wikipedia.