Do you often suffer from diarrhea, constipation, or flatulence? Are you interested in naturally caring for your intestinal health? Then probiotics and prebiotics should abound in your diet. These nutraceuticals balance the intestinal flora while strengthening the immune system, lowering blood cholesterol, and preventing osteoporosis.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that colonize and have a positive effect on the microbiota in the colon. At the same time, prebiotics are indigestible compounds that serve as food for the good bacteria in the gut. Are you ready to learn everything there is to know about probiotics and prebiotics?
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection: The Best Probiotics & Prebiotics Supplements
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Probiotics & Prebiotics
- 4.1 What are probiotics and prebiotics exactly?
- 4.2 What are the characteristics of probiotics and prebiotics?
- 4.3 What are the most commonly used probiotics in supplements?
- 4.4 What are the most beneficial types of prebiotics?
- 4.5 How do humans benefit from probiotics?
- 4.6 What are the advantages of prebiotics?
- 4.7 When are probiotics and prebiotics recommended?
- 4.8 What types of probiotic and prebiotic supplements are there?
- 4.9 What are the food sources of probiotics and prebiotics?
- 4.10 What are the side effects and contraindications of these supplements?
- 5 Buyer's Guide
- 6 Summary
- Probiotics are microorganisms – mainly bacteria – that have a positive influence on the bacterial flora of the colon. Prebiotics are indigestible plant substances that stimulate the growth of bacteria that form part of the healthy intestinal flora.
- The benefits of probiotics and prebiotics go well beyond the gut. They improve the functioning of the immune system, reduce blood cholesterol, increase calcium absorption, promote lactose digestion, and mitigate diarrhea from antibiotics and rotavirus.
- Probiotics and prebiotics can be obtained from conventional foods or supplements. There are various criteria that you should take into account when purchasing the latter, which include their dosage and your dietary restrictions, among others.
Our Selection: The Best Probiotics & Prebiotics Supplements
Experts have been vocal about the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics for years now, which is why the production of these supplements has grown significantly. Unfortunately, not all products meet the quality and concentration of active ingredients required to improve health. In the section below, you will find our selection of the best probiotics and prebiotics currently available out there:
Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Probiotics & Prebiotics
Probiotics and prebiotics are generally safe for health and have very few contraindications. However, knowing what they are used for and how to manage your intake is essential. In the section below, we will delve into their benefits and characteristics, while answering the most frequently asked questions regarding these supplements.
What are probiotics and prebiotics exactly?
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are basically the substrate for beneficial bacteria in the gut and stimulate the growth of these microorganisms. These compounds come from plants, are indigestible, and can be fermented by the bacteria that form the normal intestinal flora. Inulin is the most common prebiotic in supplements (2, 3).
What are the characteristics of probiotics and prebiotics?
Criteria for probiotics
- Lack of virulence; in other words, they shouldn't cause disease in an immunocompetent person.
- They should resist gastric juices and stomach acids to reach the colon intact.
- They must form part of the normal human bacterial flora.
- Once added to a food (such as yogurt) or a supplement, they must remain viable.
Criteria for prebiotics
- They must be natural compounds of vegetal origin.
- The enzymes of the foregut (in the mouth, stomach, or duodenum) shouldn't digest them.
- They must reach the colon almost intact.
- Bacteria in the colon should be able to ferment them.
What are the most commonly used probiotics in supplements?
What are the most beneficial types of prebiotics?
How do humans benefit from probiotics?
- They balance the intestinal flora. Both harmless and pathogenic bacteria inhabit the colon; the latter proliferate and cause disease when an imbalance occurs. Probiotics compete with pathogenic microorganisms for nutrients and other resources while inhibiting their proliferation. They also promote the growth of good bacteria (1, 6).
- They help treat and prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Long-term consumption of antibiotics destroys healthy intestinal flora, causes imbalances, and leads to diarrhea. In these cases, probiotics prevent acute diarrhea or shorten its duration. They are also useful in treating traveler's diarrhea and rotavirus (7).
- They regulate the intestinal transit. Just like they can treat or prevent some instances of diarrhea, probiotics normalize the rhythm of bowel movement and help avoid constipation (8).
- They improve lactose digestion. The probiotic Streptococcus thermophilus helps digest lactose and mitigates flatulence, diarrhea, and bloating in intolerant individuals (1).
- They protect the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Probiotics prevent pathogens from adhering to the epithelium, proliferating, and causing disease. By keeping the intestinal mucosa healthy, they also stop harmful microorganisms from entering the blood (1).
- They strengthen the immune system in general. Probiotics not only keep your intestine healthy, but they also stimulate immunity in your entire body. These microorganisms are also used in cancer prevention and the reduction of allergy symptoms and contribute to the treatment to eradicate Helicobacter pylori (6).
- They reduce inflammation and may help treat ulcerative colitis. This is directly linked to the maintenance and restoration of the integrity of the intestinal mucosa. While these results are promising, the effectiveness of probiotics in improving the quality of life of patients with ulcerative colitis still needs to be further studied (1, 9).
What are the advantages of prebiotics?
- They stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine (especially bifidobacteria) (4).
- They serve as a substrate for the colonocytes, which are cells of the intestinal mucosa. This also contributes to the maintenance of the integrity of the mucosa of the colon (4).
- They reduce blood cholesterol levels by favoring its elimination by fecal matter (8, 10).
- Oligrofructose improves insulin sensitivity and prevents blood glucose peaks (11).
- They boost the absorption of calcium and magnesium at the intestinal level, which contributes to bone health (4, 8).
- They can treat and prevent constipation by increasing stool weight (4).
When are probiotics and prebiotics recommended?
- Acute diarrhea caused by antibiotics;
- Traveler's diarrhea;
- Rotavirus diarrhea;
- Irritable bowel syndrome (irritable colon);
- Lactose intolerance;
- Ulcerative colitis;
- Hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol);
What types of probiotic and prebiotic supplements are there?
- Pure probiotics: Generally consisting of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, they are marketed in the form of capsules, tablets, and gummies. Pure probiotics provide 30 to 40 billion CFUs (Colony-Forming Units) per serving. This value indicates the number of bacteria present in a given dose.
- Pure prebiotics: Inulin is the primary component, with oat fiber and soybean oligosaccharides also common. They come in tablets or powder form. Inulin has a sweet and mild taste. You are usually advised to take 10 to 12 grams of prebiotics per day.
- Synbiotics: These supplements are the best option as they combine probiotics and prebiotics. Therefore, the same product provides the beneficial microorganisms and the substrate needed by these bacteria and/or yeasts to multiply and exert their positive effect in the gut. They are sold as capsules or tablets (5).
What are the food sources of probiotics and prebiotics?
|Sources of probiotics||Sources of prebiotics|
Fermented soybean: miso, tempeh, natto (vegan)
Pickles in brine (vegan)
What are the side effects and contraindications of these supplements?
While probiotics and prebiotics belong to the group of supplements called "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS), you have to factor in various aspects before opting for a specific product (12). In the following section, we will delve into the primary shopping criteria that can help you make a successful purchase:
Type of Probiotic & Prebiotic
As we explained, inulin is the most widely used prebiotic in supplements; it is generally obtained from chicory root. Fructooligosaccharides (from the degradation of inulin), oat fiber, and soy oligosaccharides are also widely used in food supplements and are highly effective.
Choosing the right type of probiotic is essential to reaching your supplementation goals. If you want to balance the intestinal flora and increase your defenses, you can opt for a blend of different strains. If you aim to improve lactose digestion or treat diarrhea, you will want to choose a specific probiotic (6, 12):
|To prevent or shorten the duration of acute diarrhea caused by antibiotics:||Blend of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii (yeast)|
|To improve lactose digestion:||Streptococcus thermophilus|
|To mitigate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (irritable colon):||Bifidobacterium lactis HN019|
|To relieve the symptoms of cow's milk protein allergy:||Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12|
|To reduce the duration of rotavirus diarrhea in children:||Lactobacillus reuteri SD2112, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and Lactobacillus casei Shirota|
It is essential that you take the appropriate doses of probiotics and prebiotics for them to have a positive impact on your health. For prebiotics, you can take doses of 10-12 grams per day. Each serving of probiotics, on the other hand, should give you between 100 million and 1 billion CFUs (Colony-Forming Units) (1, 12).
These supplements generally come in the form of capsules and tablets. Synbiotics are your best option since these products combine both probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are available in fruit-flavored gummies too, making it easier for specific population groups to ingest. The prebiotic inulin can be consumed as a powder, dissolved in water or juice.
Suitability for Vegans
Probiotic and prebiotic food supplements are often suitable for vegans, as their ingredients are of plant or synthetic origin. You will rarely find animal-based compounds in them. If you opt for capsules, don't forget to check the nutrition label to make sure that the capsule material is hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (plant cellulose).
The label of any probiotic, prebiotic, or synbiotic supplement should provide more information than simply the ingredients and recommended dosage. In the case of probiotics, the genus, species, and strain should also be specified. In addition, you should find the number of CFUs per serving, the shelf life of the product, as well as storage recommendations (12).
Probiotics and prebiotics are substances that are found in conventional foods and that can significantly contribute to intestinal and general health if taken daily and in the right doses. They help shorten episodes of acute diarrhea, lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation in the gut, and increase calcium absorption.
Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that promote the balance of the flora in the colon, while prebiotics provide the substrate for these microorganisms to develop. Blends of probiotics and prebiotics are called synbiotics. They are marketed in the form of tablets or capsules; these products are considered to be safe for health.
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