“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” this age-old quote by Hippocrates is the idea of today’s health-conscious population. Eli Metchnikoff, the Russian Nobel prize winner was the first one to recognize the beneficial role of bacteria on the alimentary canal of humans.
The health benefits of probiotics and prebiotics, as well as synbiotics, have been the subject of research in the past few decades. These food supplements known as functional foods have shown to alter, modify and restore the pre-existing intestinal bacterias.
Let us learn about these functional foods in detail. Starting with Probiotics.
Probiotics are a combination of live beneficial bacteria or yeasts that naturally live in our bodies mainly in the gut. Bacteria is usually viewed in a negative light as something that makes us sick.
However, there are two kinds of bacteria constantly in and on our body which are good bacteria and bad bacteria. Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that help keep our bodies healthy and functioning well. This good bacteria helps us in many ways, including fighting off bad bacteria when we have too much of it and improving our immunity.
These are a part of a larger picture concerning bacteria and our body which is our microbiome. Think of a microbiome as a diverse community of organisms, such as a forest, that work together to keep our bodies healthy, this community is made up of things called microbes. We have trillions of microbes on and in our bodies.
These microbes are a combination of bacteria, fungi (including yeasts), viruses and protozoa etc. Each one of us has a unique microbiome. No two people have the same microbial cells, not even twins. For a microbe to be called a probiotic, it must have several characteristics.
These include being able to survive in our intestine after ingestion (being eaten), they should have a proven benefit to the body and they should be safe to consume.
Moving on to Prebiotics, these are the compounds in food that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. The most common example is in the alimentary canal tract, where prebiotics can change the composition of organisms in the gut microbiome.
These are the source of food for our gut’s healthy bacteria. They are carbohydrates our body cannot digest. So they go to our lower digestive tract, where they act as food to help the healthy bacteria grow.
The main job of these probiotics and prebiotics is to maintain a healthy balance in our bodies. When we are sick, bad bacteria enter our bodies and increase in number. This knocks our bodies out of balance. Good bacteria work to fight off the bad bacteria and restore the balance within our bodies, making us feel better. This in brief is how our immune response works and gets better with each exposure.
They keep us healthy by supporting our immune function and controlling inflammation. Certain types of probiotics and prebiotics can also:
- Help our body digest food.
- Keep bad bacteria from getting out of control and making us sick.
- Create vitamins.
- Help support the cells that line our gut to prevent bad bacteria that we may have consumed (through food or drinks) from entering our blood.
- Breakdown and absorb medications.
This balancing act is naturally happening in our bodies all of the time. You do not need to take probiotic or prebiotic supplements to make it happen. Good bacteria is just a natural part of your body. Eating a well- balanced diet rich in fibre every day helps to keep the number of good bacteria at optimum levels.
We know about Probiotics and Prebiotics but what are Synbiotics?
Synbiotics are mixtures of probiotics and prebiotics. Specifically, they are combinations of these two that work together (synergistically) in our digestive tract. The idea behind synbiotics is that the prebiotics help the probiotics to survive in our intestines.
This could help balance our gut bacteria, which benefits our gut health, metabolism, and immune system. We can get synbiotics as supplements or in foods. They have several health benefits, they are thought to help our body in several ways:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Scientists believe synbiotics may reduce gut inflammation and help relieve symptoms in people with IBD.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS is one of the most common functional alimentary canal tract disorders and is a chronic condition characterized by abdominal discomfort and pain, bloating and a changeable bowel habit and flatulence. A mixture of 8 probiotic strains and Lactobacillus plantarum decreased flatulence and relieved abdominal bloating. They were found to be effective in reducing the symptoms.
- Travellers’ diarrhoea: One can get this when they eat or drink contaminated food and water, usually when they visit a place with different sanitary practices. It causes cramps and diarrhoea. Synbiotics may help to prevent it.
- Lactose intolerance: People with this condition have symptoms like bloating, diarrhoea, stomach pain, and gas after eating or drinking dairy products because they cannot properly digest a sugar found in milk called lactose. Studies have shown that synbiotics could reduce these symptoms.
- Obesity: A breakthrough paper published in Nature reported that the microbial population present in the gut is different for obese and lean people and when obese people lost weight their microflora resembled that of lean people. Diets containing high fibres typically have lower degrees of fat and energy density, and are helpful for reducing the risk of obesity by promoting satiety and weight loss.
Now that we know about these synbiotics we should include these in our diets and step towards a healthy life.
DISCLAIMER: Please consult a certified doctor before consuming any of the above-mentioned foods. The information provided is study- based and not medically reviewed.
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A dip into the insights you would gain from the course:
1) An easy understanding of the digestion process
2) Conditions linked to gut health and the signs and symptoms to look out for
3) Questions to ask your clients to gage the severity of gut issues
3) Gut health restoring foods and its different forms
4) Easy tricks to remember Low FODMAP foods for IBS
4) 20 Dietary Supplements to support gut health, dosage and recommendations to use in consultation with nutritionist
5) 12 Probiotics with a number of active composition micro-organisms and how it helps in gut health
6) Exercise and its influence on gut health
7) Mindful eating techniques to practice for improved digestion
8) Busting myths and fads associated with gut health
9) You get ready downloadable notes , counselings tips and supplement information
Pandey, K. R., Naik, S. R., & Vakil, B. V. (2015). Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics- a review. Journal of food science and technology, 52(12), 7577–7587.
Davani-Davari, D., Negahdaripour, M., Karimzadeh, I., Seifan, M., Mohkam, M., Masoumi, S. J., Berenjian, A., & Ghasemi, Y. (2019). Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 8(3), 92.
de Vrese M, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics. Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol. 2008;111:1-66. doi: 10.1007/10_2008_097. PMID: 18461293.