What can a good gastrointestinal health contribute to your daily wellbeing? The answers can be enhanced absorbance of nutrients, increased gastrointestinal movement and detoxification, positive moods, and more that you could think of. What if someone tells you that the bacteria in your body play important roles in digestion and are responsible for your daily happiness? In fact, many people have been taking probiotics to aid gastrointestinal health. These probiotics are live microorganisms that survive in the gut and provide the aforementioned benefits to us. The prebiotics, the so-called “nondigestible food ingredients” serve as food for the gut flora, selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of desirable colonic bacteria (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium). Prebiotics contain types of fiber such as beta glucans and insulin that gut bacteria feed on. The prebiotics nourish your friendly bacteria in the GI tract to make sure your overall GI wellbeing is on point for the day (3). An easy way to differentiate between the two is that prebiotics is food for probiotics!
Prebiotics may be helpful or preventative for irritable bowel (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease,ulcerative colitis), colon polyps and cancer and those people with a leaky gut.In addition, prebiotics can reduce body fat and alter intestinal microbiota in children who are overweight or with obesity (1). Moreover, they can improve health by allowing growth of bacteria that facilitate the absorption of nutrients like minerals, helping food digestion, maintaining the intestinal pH and promoting intestinal peristalsis. By themselves they help to maintain a normal balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut, to control blood glucose, HbA1c and LDL, to improve symptoms of IBS. So, they are added to both regular foods and pet foods to improve overall well being for humans and animals.
Where can you find prebiotics? Prebiotics occur naturally all around us, there is no need to purchase particular pills for it. The source of prebiotics can be found in fruits like bananas and kiwi, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion, legumes, onion, leek, garlic, honey, soybean, raw oats, whole grains like wheat, and barley, and brown rice. Note that yogurt has both bacteria and prebiotics, essentially hitting both benefits with one stone. So eat your yogurt! Prebiotics are mostly oligosaccharides, including fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), isomalto oligosaccharides (MMOS) and xylooligosaccharides (XOS), soy oligosaccharides and inulin, polydextrose. They also contain some soluble fiber (pectin, gums). Mannan Oligosaccharides (MOS) are only for animals. Recently, calcium phosphate and chicory root (fiber-prebiotic) have also been used in manufacturing.
If you would like to purchase prebiotics and probiotics off the shelf, it is important to know which products to buy. Make sure to buy a product that has a seal of approval from testing agencies such as one from Consumer Reports/Consumer Labs. It is recommended to buy probiotic capsules packaged with insulin or other prebiotics to increase effectiveness. It is also recommended to buy probiotics in spore form, which ensures that the microorganisms can survive on the shelf and in the digestive tract (2).
Nicolucci AC, Hume MP, Martínez I, Mayengbam S, Walter J, Reimer RA. Prebiotics Reduce Body Fat and Alter Intestinal Microbiota in Children Who Are Overweight or With Obesity. Gastroenterology. 2017 Sep;153(3):711-722. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.055. Epub 2017 Jun 5. PMID: 28596023.