Your gut is home to trillions of different microorganisms who work to help you digest food and develop immunity. It’s probably not surprising to know that keeping these microbes happy offers a wide range of health benefits to you.
When it comes to the gut microbiome (community of microbes living in your gut), diversity is key! Studies have found that individuals with less diverse gut bacteria are more likely to suffer from obesity, asthma, allergies and are more vulnerable to mental health concerns (1).
Consuming probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotic foods can help to modify the microbiome and improve gut health.
Probiotics – ‘It’s alive!’
Probiotics refer to foods that contain living microorganisms which can pass through the acid environment of the stomach to increase the number of good gut bacteria.
Although you can buy probiotic supplements, they are also readily available in numerous food items, such as sauerkraut, yoghurt and kefir.
There is a large body of evidence that shows that eating probiotics can directly benefit gut health, for example, by alleviating diarrhoea and constipation. These changes in the gut can also offer many wider health benefits too. Obesity has been shown to reduce the diversity of the gut bacteria (2) and some evidence suggests that the use of probiotics to prevent or treat obesity may be effective (3).
And that’s just one example! The health benefits of probiotics are vast, which is reflected in their definition provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO): ‘Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.’(4)
Prebiotics – Feeding your bacteria
Prebiotics are food ingredients that your body cannot digest. So, they travel further down the digestive tract, where they ferment and act like a fertiliser to promote the growth and activity of the beneficial bacteria within the gut.
There is a multitude of easily accessible and delicious prebiotic foods that you can incorporate into your diet to improve your gut health, such as garlic, onions and leeks.
Much like probiotics, the literature available on the health benefits of consuming prebiotics is extensive. Consuming prebiotics foods has been attributed with reduced inflammation, reduced symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and protective effects against colon cancer (5).
Prebiotics and probiotics are optimised when they work together to improve the activity and diversity of microbes within your gut.
Synbiotics – Twice as good?
The term ‘synbiotic’ references when probiotics and prebiotics are combined and work together, in synergy, to improve gut microbiome. As ‘synergy’ forms part of the word, the term synbiotic should be reserved for products where the prebiotic element is specifically chosen to favour the selected probiotic bacteria (6). Therefore, synbiotic generally refers to a manufactured food supplement.
Current evidence suggests that prebiotics are most effective when consumed in combination with probiotics, as prebiotics have shown potential to improve the survival of probiotic bacteria and increase its chances of arriving in the gut (4). However, there is currently limited data to show that taking a synbiotic supplement would be any more effective than consuming a balanced diet rich in probiotic and prebiotic foods (7).
Adopting a synbiotic style of eating, by consuming a diet rich in probiotic and prebiotic foods, could help to make your gut microbiome thrive and promote positive changes to your overall health and wellbeing.
But wait, it’s more than just biotics!
It seems apparent that having a diverse and balanced gut is very important to your physical and mental health. Although probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics can play a key role in helping you to achieve this, there are other factors in play.
Avoiding processed foods and including more fibre into your diet are just some of the other ways you can reset your gut and encourage your good bacteria to thrive. Reset Your Health can help you to establish and promote a balanced gut microbiome by providing an easy to follow, online course. The RYH programme incorporates natural probiotics and prebiotics, as well as other key foods, to encourage good gut health whilst meeting all your nutritional needs.
Interested to learn more about what the microbiome does and how it contributes to our physical and mental health? Take a look at some of our blogs:
Think you’re human – your microbiome disagrees
Gut health, the immune system and mental health – the surprising link you might not know about
1. Rogers C. Gut Well Soon: Panoma Press Ltd; 2019.
2. Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature. 2006;444(7122):1022-3, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17183309.
3. Brusaferro A, Cozzali R, Orabona C, Biscarini A, Farinelli E, Cavalli E, et al. Is It Time to Use Probiotics to Prevent or Treat Obesity? Nutrients. 2018;10(11), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30388851.
4. Pandey KR, Naik SR, Vakil BV. Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics- a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2015;52(12):7577-87, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26604335.
5. Brownawell AM, Caers W, Gibson GR, Kendall CW, Lewis KD, Ringel Y, et al. Prebiotics and the health benefits of fiber: current regulatory status, future research, and goals. J Nutr. 2012;142(5):962-74, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22457389.
6. Markowiak P, Slizewska K. Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients. 2017;9(9), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28914794.
7. Levi A. Are Synbiotics the New Probiotics?: Health. 2018. [cited September 2020]. Available from: https://www.health.com/nutrition/synbiotics#main-content.