By: Hannah Heitz
Probiotics have been shown to decrease intestinal discomfort, improve blood lipid levels, delay aging, and prevent tumors. These benefits only occur if the probiotic bacteria can survive the acidic pH of the stomach. Thus, about seventy to eighty percent of the probiotics on the market today are not as beneficial as they claim. Some of them even contained harmful bacteria when tested. Although the benefits of probiotics are supported, the credibility of the supplements is not. Supplement makers often combine probiotic strains randomly, without research or reason, and then tout that their brand contains ten probiotic strains, whereas another brand may only contain eight. To us, this sounds promising. More strains must mean increased health benefits, yet the opposite can be true. In certain combinations, probiotics can be antagonistic to one another and there is little research on the benefits of these combinations.
Prebiotic, not to be confused with probiotic, is a form of fiber that aids in the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics and probiotics work best together because prebiotics extend the life of probiotic bacteria in the body. The majority of prebiotic fiber is carbohydrates that cannot be digested so it stays in the colon and is fermented. Soybeans, oats, whole grain wheat, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and food additives, such as wheat dextrin, psyllium, acacia gum, inulin, and polydextrose are common sources of prebiotic fiber. Studies have shown that most Americans consume several grams of this fiber every day, although most of us did not realize this type of fiber existed. Prebiotic fiber not only increases the efficacy of probiotics in the gut, but it has been shown to enhance immune function. Research on prebiotic fiber is only just beginning, but it shows promising results.