You may have noticed a product called synbiotics in a pharmacy or health food store. The term “synbiotics” refers to a product that contains both prebiotics and probiotics. Although the term “synbiotics” is new, supplements containing a blend of probiotics and prebiotics have been available for a long time.

What are synbiotics?

Synbiotics are food ingredients or dietary supplements that combine probiotics and prebiotics in a synergistic way. According to the synbiotics concept, synbiotics mixture probiotics and prebiotics benefit the host by improving the survival and implantation of live microbial in the gastrointestinal tract, by selectively stimulating or activating the growth of one or a limited number of health-promoting bacteria.

Probiotics and prebiotics have long been known to work together in a synergistic manner. They’ve always worked in tandem, and both are naturally present in our diet. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that feed only the good bacteria in our gut, allowing them to flourish. They can be found in foods like garlic, onions, and legumes, but they can also be taken as a supplement. Probiotics, on the other hand, are beneficial bacteria that colonize the gastrointestinal tract. They have many health benefits, including supporting digestion, immunity, skin health, and energy, to name a few. Probiotics, like prebiotics, are found naturally in fermented foods like live yoghurt or sauerkraut, but they can also be purchased as food supplements.

What do synbiotics do?

Synbiotics have always been an appealing option for promoting the health of the gut microbiome because they combine friendly bacteria with an appropriate food source for good bacteria in a single supplement. This can be extremely beneficial because the microbes in our gut are heavily influenced by our environment, which includes universally common factors like diet, medication use, stress levels, and exercise. Depletion of beneficial bacteria as a result of an unhealthy diet low in fruits and vegetables or antibiotic use can disrupt the delicate balance of our gut microbiome, allowing the growth of less desirable microorganisms. This is known as dysbiosis. Using synbiotics ensures that the probiotics in the supplement have a food source in the gut, though it is still important to eat a healthy balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

Synbiotics can be an extremely effective way to improve overall gut health. The prebiotics in them not only feed the probiotic bacteria in the supplement, but also the populations of indigenous natural friendly bacteria that live in our gut. The bacterial composition of the gut microbiome varies greatly between individuals, with each person having their own unique gut microbiome pattern that fluctuates over time. Encouraging the growth of our own unique friendly bacteria populations is appealing because increased diversity of bacteria in our gut has been linked to improved health.

Although synbiotics have many benefits, it is worth remembering that not everyone tolerates prebiotics well, whether in diet or supplement form. In those suffering from severe IBS, it is very common to have a sensitivity to prebiotics. Individuals may complain of increased bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and cramping after ingesting a prebiotic due to excessive bacterial fermentation and subsequent gas production. These effects often will subside as the microbiome adjusts, but some individuals may find that they always struggle to digest certain types of prebiotic fibres. Synbiotics therefore would not be suitable for those with a sensitivity to prebiotics. However, a probiotic supplement alone may be of great benefit to an IBS sufferer, helping to introduce more beneficial strains into the gut and improving the quality of the microbiome. Introducing well-researched friendly bacteria to the gut can help modify dysbiosis, an imbalance between beneficial and more harmful bacteria, which has been implicated in IBS.

Overall, the most important thing is still to choose the strains of probiotics most suited to your individual needs.

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