Probiotics and prebiotics are being studied worldwide for their positive effects on health, particularly in the gut, but research on the benefits of using the two together is unclear.
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually "good" bacteria but also yeast, that have a beneficial health effect. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that the body doesn't digest, but that are used to feed the good bacteria in your system, helping them to proliferate, according to WebMD
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Products that contain both probiotics and prebiotics are called synbiotics. As more research focus is turned to all three, initial studies show that while benefits may come about from taking a synbiotic, they aren't certain.
British researchers studied three common prebiotics and their effects on five strains of Lactobacilli probiotics, with the goal being that prebiotics would supply "food" for the probiotics and help them proliferate. The study, posted at ScienceDirect
, found that three of the strains couldn't utilize the prebiotics, and two strains were able to use just one specific prebiotic, lactulose. Surprisingly, none of the five used inulin, a popular prebiotic on the market.
"Although synbiotic preparations are increasingly used, the potential benefits to gut health may be limited as only specific combinations may enhance probiotic survival and growth," the study abstract said.
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A Brazilian study, however, was hopeful for the usefulness of both prebiotics and synbiotics in affecting weight loss, Nutraingredients reported
Prebiotics were linked to lowered total and LDL cholesterol, while synbiotics appeared to improve triglycerides and HDL-cholesterol levels in diabetic trials, the website said. Other studies have found positive results, including one published on PubMed
that found a synbiotic helped obese women "to achieve significant weight loss." Another found that taking a synbiotic achieved increases in bacteria in the gut that are considered beneficial, an article in Microbiology Ecology reported
As more information and research is reported, medical practitioners will have a better answer on whether probiotics and prebiotics should be taken together. For now, unless a specific benefit is known, it isn't necessary.
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