Feed Your Gut: Understanding Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics
The pace at which our lifestyles and diet is changing, gut infection in the form of indigestion, diarrhea, bloating, discomfort, ulceration is getting more and more common. And then to make that worse, we pop in the antibiotics so easily that our gut health goes for a toss. According to experts the need of the hour is feed your gut, don’t pamper your tongue! The expressway to a peaceful gut can be paved well with the milestones of Pre-biotic, Probiotic and Synbiotics. Do we know what exactly are they? How do they benefit? From where do we get them? Disha Jhaveri, Dietician at P.D. Hinduja Hospital, Mahim gets you the answers...
What are Pro- biotics?
There are over 400 distinct species of microorganisms that inhabit the various regions of the adult human digestive tract, making up nearly two kg of total body weight. This includes harmful as well as useful bacteria.Pro: Biotics are foods or concentrates of live organisms that contribute to a healthy microbial environment and suppress the potential harmful microbes. Probiotics can be bacteria, molds or yeast. But most probiotics are bacteria. Among bacteria, lactic acid bacteria are more popular. The first recorded probiotic was fermented milk.
Foods such as yoghurt, fermented milk, paneer, buttermilk, dhokla, idli, snack bars, energy drinks and even baby food can contain probiotics. And packaged probiotic foods such as Amul Flaavyo (probiotic vitamin fortified flavoured yoghurt), Amul Prolife probiotic Lassi, Mother Diary’s b-Activ Probiotic Dahi, b-Activ Probiotic Lassi, b- Activ Curd and Nutrifit (Strawberry and Mango), Nestle Nesvita Dahi, Nestle Actiplus Dahi, Attune Granola Bars, Yakult Dairy Drink (fermented milk) are available in the Indian market
Though probiotic products are available in the market, we hardly have research data on the survival rates of these microbes in our gut. Also, the major problem with the Indian Market is the lack of correct labeling and guidelines on the storage of such products. Recently The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), 2011 framed the guidelines for such products, so we can expect a new dawn in this field soon.
The Probiotic of medicinal importance can also be supplemented via capsules or bacteria sachets available in the pharmacy. Ranbaxy (Binifit), Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, Zydus Cadila, Unichem, JB Chem, and Glaxo SmithKline are the competitors’ in this field.
A recent report by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and American Society for Microbiology indicates that probiotics can be used to treat diarrhea, infections of the urinary tract and female genital tract, irritable bowel syndrome, even reduce recurrence of bladder or colon cancer or atopic dermatitis in children, seasonal allergies, sinusitis and bronchitis.
Thus Probiotics can improve immunity, aids in better digestion, absorption of calcium and prevention of allergies and colon cancers. However, the recommendation of how much probiotic should one consume cannot be generalized.
What are Pre- biotics?
Prebiotics are selectively fermented, dietary ingredients that result in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal micro flora thus conferring benefits upon host health. Unlike probiotics, a prebiotic targets the micro flora already present within the ecosystem, it acts as a ‘food’ for the target microbes.
The most widely accepted prebiotics are FOS (fructo- oligosaccharides) and GOS (galacto- oligosaccharides). FOS and GOS occur naturally in foods such as asparagus, garlic, artichoke, onion, wheat and oat, as well as soybean. However, it would take a large quantity of these foods for their active oligosaccharides to exert a useful prebiotic effect. A more realistic method involves fortifying popular foodstuffs with defined amounts of prebiotics. Thus, you will find that prebiotic compounds are added to many foods including yogurts, cereals, breads, biscuits, milk desserts, nutritional supplement bars, ice-creams, spreads, drinks, water, infant formula, as well as to some animal foods.
What are Syn- biotics?
Probiotic bacteria taken together with prebiotics that support their growth are called “synbiotics.” Both work together in a synergistic way more efficiently promoting the probiotics’ benefits.
*Images courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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