Check out a Q&A about Probiotics
Have You Fed Your Good Bugs Today?
By Marjorie Geiser
Most consumers have heard of probiotics and know that they are foods containing live, beneficial bacteria. Foods such as yogurt, buttermilk, miso or kefir are the most recognized foods providing good bacteria for the gut.
But are you aware of the health benefits of prebiotics? In a nutshell, prebiotics are the food to help the probiotics grow and multiply. They are the food for your “good bugs.”
A quick review of probiotics will help in understanding prebiotics. The advantage of beneficial living organisms in food, particularly lactic acid bacteria, has been known for centuries. In fact, the Roman historian Plinius, in 76 BC, recommended fermented milk for treating gastroenteritis.
In the early 1900s, a Russian zoologist, Elie Metchnikoff, wrote about the health benefits of "friendly bacteria" and hypothesized that consumption of fermented milk products were responsible for the long, healthy lives that Bulgarian peasants enjoyed.
So what are probiotics?
Probiotics means "pro life.” The digestive tract is home to over 400 species of microorganisms. Some are “good bugs” and some are “bad bugs,” or unhealthy bacteria. Probiotics are the good bugs. Two of the most common strains are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. It is believed that if a positive balance of good bacteria is maintained, the bad bacteria are less able to cause disease and irritation.
Here are some health benefits to taking probiotics:
inhibit growth of “bad bugs” or bacteria that cause disease
synthesize vitamins, primarily B vitamins
increase availability of nutrients
decrease lactose intolerance
decrease symptoms of GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease)
decrease prevalence of allergies
boost immune response
Help the little buggers out
As mentioned earlier, prebiotics are food for probiotics. Consequently, the more you can feed and care for your good bugs, the healthier you can be.
The Japanese have known the benefits of prebiotics for years. In fact, a commercially prepared prebiotic call "Neosugar" is currently used in over 500 Japanese food products, from infant formulas to health products.
The two most common prebiotics are inulin and oligofructose. As a supplement, it will be listed as either inulin or FOS (fructooligosaccharides). Inulin or oligofructose are present in over 36,000 plant foods as plant storage carbohydrates. Excellent food sources are chicory and Jerusalem artichokes. In fact, most commercially prepared inulin comes from chicory or is synthesized from sucrose. Other food sources include wheat, barley, rye, onions, garlic and leeks.
Because flatulence, bloating and abdominal cramps can be an undesirable consequence of taking prebiotics (and even probiotics), it is recommended that anyone considering taking these in supplement form contact a health care professional familiar with such products for individualized recommendations.
What’s in it for you?
Those who could benefit from taking probiotic and prebiotic supplements include:
People taking antibiotics, which kill off the good bugs in the intestinal tract
People who suffer from diarrhea, constipation, gastrointestinal distress and/or irritable bowel syndrome
Women who suffer from chronic yeast and/or Candida infections
Probiotic supplements are available as freeze-dried, powdered, capsules, wafers and liquids. Doses of Acidophilus and Bifidobacteria are expressed in billions of live organisms; a typical dose, unless otherwise recommended, is between 3 billion to 5 billion live organisms.
Because probiotics are living organisms and are fragile, they should always be refrigerated. Products found on a shelf, therefore, are not going to contain live organisms and not be as effective. The product label should guarantee a certain number of live organisms by the expiration date of the product. There should always be an expiration date.
Prebiotics can be found either with a probiotic product or separately, because FOS and inulin are food for the probiotics. If purchased separately, they can be taken together. Some people, because of the high number of bad bugs in their gastrointestinal tract, cannot handle the two products taken together in the beginning.
This is where an experienced health care professional can be beneficial. The suggested intake of FOS is 2 to 3 grams per day. Products containing vitamin C, whey protein or cysteine may improve the effectiveness of probiotics.
Some people will notice no harmful effects and these products are generally very safe, but individual sensitivity can alter the effects of such products. This information is not intended to substitute for medical advice or care that you would receive from your healthcare professional, so always check with your provider. If you are taking medications or have health issues, make sure you start these products under the care of a professional.
If something as simple as providing and feeding the good bugs in your intestinal tract can improve subtle or severe health issues, it's certainly time to start feeding your good bugs today!
© Marjorie Geiser
Marjorie Geiser has been teaching health, fitness and nutrition since 1982. She is a nutritionist, registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and life coach. As the owner of MEG Fitness, Marjorie's goal for her clients is to help them incorporate healthy eating and fitness into their busy lives. You can learn more about Marjorie from her web site, www.megfit.com, or contact her via e-mail at margie @ megfit.com (no spaces).