You’ve probably heard of “probiotics” and its benefits more than once in your lifetime. Be it on the packaging of yogurt products, in pharmacies or in our previous article. Probiotics have been on the rise as people are becoming more health-conscious. According to a survey conducted in 2022 by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) on gut health and probiotics, more than half of those surveyed consider themselves familiar with probiotics and 1 in 3 actively try to consume them for better gut health¹.
Apart from generally knowing that probiotics are beneficial to our health, to what extent do we know about them? And it’s not just probiotics – there are also prebiotics and synbiotics. Let’s find out what are they, and why do they all end with “-biotic”?
What is the meaning of ‘biotic’?
Biotic is an actual word by itself and is defined as anything involving, caused by or relating to living things in our environment². Thus, probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics all revolve around living things, specifically live microorganisms.
Then what do the additions of Pro, Pre and Syn to the word “biotic” mean?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are defined as live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host³. These probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that serve to improve our health when consumed.
The most common probiotics are those that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, both of which can be found in the gut.
Not all types probiotics offer the same health benefits. Probiotics belonging to the Lactobacillus group can confer different benefits compared to Bifidobacterium. Those within the Lactobacillus group can have varying effects too, as the benefits are specific to the actual probiotic strain. For example, the probiotic strain Lactobacillus acidophilus benefits our gut by producing lactic acid to maintain the gut’s acidity. This encourages the growth of good bacteria while inhibiting bad bacteria in the gut⁴.
On the other hand, Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GR-1® benefits women’s urogenital health as it is able to colonize the vagina to prevent the growth of bad bacteria and help to maintain balanced vaginal flora⁵. Therefore, some probiotics are better suited than others to target specific health aspects.
The health benefits of probiotics can be further enhanced with prebiotics.
Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not live bacteria. Rather, prebiotics are natural dietary fiber that can be found in fruits and plants. Prebiotics are not digested or absorbed by the body. Instead, they remain in the gastrointestinal tract to help probiotics grow and survive better. Thus, the addition of prebiotics help to enhance the efficacy of probiotics and their health benefits.
Prebiotics also demonstrate the ability to relieve constipation. A review on clinical trials related to the effect of prebiotics on constipation showed that prebiotics increase stool frequency, improve stool consistency and bowel movements⁶.
Thus, consuming probiotics together with prebiotics can enable greater benefits for the gut. In fact, products combining them already exist.
Synbiotics are a mixture of probiotics and prebiotics that beneficially affects the health of the host by improving the survival and activity of beneficial microorganisms in the gut⁷. Prebiotics help to stimulate probiotic growth. synbiotics work in a synergistic manner to provide beneficial effects to our health when consumed. They help to improve the survivability of probiotics due to the prebiotic inside and stimulate their activity to improve gut health and our gut microflora⁷. Probiotics can be found in some common foods and prebiotics can occur naturally in plant foods. However, food products that are also synbiotics are not as common.
Instead, you can look for supplements such as Pro-Gut™. Pro-Gut™ contains 8 strains of live probiotics to target a wider range of gastrointestinal disorders. A prebiotic called inulin is also used to enhance the efficacy of the probiotics in Pro-Gut™ for better maintenance of gut health. Thus, Pro-Gut™ is a natural synbiotic as it contains 8 live probiotic strains and a prebiotic!
Consumer Insights on Gut Health & Probiotics. (2022). [online] Available at: https://foodinsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/IFIC-Gut-Health-and-Probiotics-Survey.pdf
Cambridge Dictionary (2022). biotic. [online] @CambridgeWords. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/biotic.
Probiotics in food Health and nutritional properties and guidelines for evaluation. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.fao.org/3/a0512e/a0512e.pdf.
Sciencedirect.com. (2015). Lactococcus - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. [online] Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/lactococcus.
Reid, G., Charbonneau, D., Erb, J., Kochanowski, B., Beuerman, D., Poehner, R. and Bruce, A.W. (2003). Oral use ofLactobacillus rhamnosusGR-1 andL. fermentumRC-14 significantly alters vaginal flora: randomized, placebo-controlled trial in 64 healthy women. FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology, 35(2), pp.131–134.
Effects of Prebiotics and Synbiotics on Functional Constipation. (2017). The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, [online] 353(3), pp.282–292.
Gyawali, R., Nwamaioha, N., Fiagbor, R., Zimmerman, T., Newman, R.H. and Ibrahim, S.A. (2019). The Role of Prebiotics in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Dietary Interventions in Gastrointestinal Diseases, pp.151–167.
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