When considering the question, “What are biotics?” it’s important to not only take into consideration probiotics, which get all the press, but prebiotics as well. Both of them play vital roles in helping to keep us healthy, and it’s very important that you have an ample supply of both in your digestive system. Here’s a quick look at both prebiotics and probiotics, the benefits of both, and how to get more.
If you eat sourdough bread, garlic and bananas, you’ve consumed prebiotics and probably not even known it. These and other food products contain fibers that the body can’t digest. But these fibers don’t go to waste – they serve as fuel for the beneficial microbes in the “gut,” or digestive system.
While probiotics grab all of the attention thanks to the many benefits they provide to the body, prebiotics offer their share of benefits as well. Here are just a few.
Lowering “bad” cholesterol – You’ve probably heard of bad cholesterol, the kind that accumulates in the arteries and can lead to stroke, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. This is also known as LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, cholesterol. A beneficial strain of bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri, helps to lower the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Prebiotics provide the energy that L. reuteri need in order to survive.1
Reducing inflammation – Research indicates that prebiotics can affect metabolism in a way that slows the inflammation of muscles and tissues.2
Boosting the immune system – When you develop a respiratory infection such as the flu, that’s an example of the immune system not being able to do its job, which is to protect us from many different types of illnesses. Studies suggest that you can strengthen your immune system by increasing your intake of prebiotics. One of the possible reasons why is that prebiotics play a role in helping the body absorb nutrients from food while lowering the acidity of the gastrointestinal tract. This provides a more favorable environment for good microbes to thrive. 3
When most people think about, “What are biotics?” they think about probiotics first. After all, you see advertising for them just about everywhere, so it’s only natural that they would come to mind. These are the “good” microbes, such as yeast and bacteria, that were mentioned earlier.
The gut is a battleground, where good and bad bacteria fight for control. When the “good” guys outnumber the bad, most of us enjoy good digestive health. When they don’t, that’s when were at the highest risk for problems such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, gas, bloating and others. But probiotics don’t only help our digestive system. Research shows they can provide benefits throughout the rest of the body.
Vaginal health – According to one study, women who take probiotics have a better chance at avoiding issues such as yeast infections and urinary tract infections.4
Reduced blood pressure – More than 500 patients with hypertension (high blood pressure) participated in nine studies conducted to analyze whether or not probiotics could help lower their blood pressure readings. In eight of those studies, results showed that probiotics can help lower systolic as well as diastolic blood pressure. Patients who took probiotic supplements containing multiple strains of good bacteria had lower readings than those who ingested supplement containing just one probiotic bacterium. Both groups saw lower numbers than patients who took a placebo. 5
Benefits to teeth and skin – Many members of the Lactobacillus bacterial strain, according to one study, can help reduce gingivitis as well as tooth decay.6Another study involving pregnant women showed that the ones who took probiotics had less of a chance of giving birth to a child with eczema, a condition that results in dry, itchy skin.7
Getting More Prebiotics and Probiotics in Your System
There are a lot of foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics, but it would be almost impossible to get what you need through diet alone. You’d have to eat such a large amount of these foods that the benefits would soon be negated by all the weight you’d gain. It’s important to balance your pre- and probiotic intake through supplements as well as food. Talk to your doctor before starting any sort of prebiotic or probiotic regimen to make sure it’s safe.