Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics

Diane K., journalist

 It is estimated that people have trillions of microbes externally and internally. Though it might not seem so, these microbes are a very essential part of everyone’s health. Good microorganisms such as probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics can confer many health benefits, making it a popular topic among many. Research has shown that foods containing probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics are beneficial to health in several ways.

Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as, “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.” There are a variety of diverse microorganisms in probiotics, but the most common types are the bacteria lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, as well as a type of yeast called saccharomyces boulardii. The thought of consuming bacteria and other microorganisms may not be pleasant, but probiotics promote a healthy internal microbiome and ensure the healthy regulation of internal biological processes. Probiotics work in accordance with the bacteria within your body to maintain your overall digestive health. Although the consumption of probiotics can be harmful to infants and high-risk patients, it is overall considered to be safe for most people.

For probiotics to work even more effectively, they can be combined with a non-digestible food component called “prebiotic”. While probiotics are relatively well known by the public, not many people know about prebiotics. The International Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics defines prebiotics as, “a substrate that is selectively utilized by the host micro-organisms and confers a health benefit”. Most prebiotics are fibers that cannot be digested and can improve health by stimulating the growth of specific types of microorganisms.

Prebiotic compounds that work in accordance with probiotics are called synbiotics. Synbiotics further enhance the health benefits of both compounds and balance specific bacteria within the human gut. Consuming synbiotics can increase levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria which help create a more stable gut microbiota, improve liver function in cirrhotic patients, and reduce infections caused during surgery.

Digesting beneficial microorganisms plays a crucial role in creating a healthy microbial community. A healthy microbiome not only contributes to digestion but can also have positive effects in many other areas of health. When there is an imbalance in microorganisms, metabolic dysfunction can occur. This condition of having an imbalance in microbial communities is called “dysbiosis”. Dysbiosis is correlated with several diseases and health conditions, emphasizing the importance of having a healthy microbiome. Probiotics and prebiotics may help treat conditions that are associated with dysbiosis by stabilizing the balance of microorganisms in the host’s body.

In addition to physical benefits, probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics can also have positive effects on mental health. The gastrointestinal tract has a connection to the nervous system through the “gut-brain axis”. Gut microbiota has a crucial role in the development and function of the central nervous system, and it can affect the brain through the metabolic, neuroendocrine, and immune pathways. Dysbiosis has shown an association with central nervous disorders such as autism, depression, and anxiety. In research conducted to observe the effects of probiotics on mood, many people felt less anxious and saw a decrease in depression (Cerdó et al.). This research suggests that probiotics may have positive effects on mood, and possibly help treat central nervous disorders.

These are only some of the effects of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics, and there is still a lot more that needs to be researched. It is important for further studies to be conducted to understand and prove the effectiveness and safety of microorganisms to users.

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