Just when you thought probiotics was becoming a household word, now you need to learn prebiotics – pre, as in before. Prebioticis, as in, this is what the probiotics need before they can properly become self-actualized.
Probiotics, you'll remember, are beneficial bacteria that inhabit your intestinal tract and confer positive health benefits, most notably digestive regularity and immune health.
Think of prebiotics as the lunchbox for probiotics.
You'll start to see prebiotics being integrated into probiotic formulations, be it supplements or yogurt. Prebiotics have names such as inulin or FOS or GOS or chicory root or resistant starch. They are non-digestible fibers that make it down into the colon where they are gobbled up by probiotics such as bifidobacteria and lactic acid, and serve to increase the number and activity of the probiotics.
When prebiotics are married together with probiotics, they take on the new name: synbiotics, as in a synergy of ingredients.
They are also being found to have anti-cancer benefits.1 In one early animal study, the prebiotics and the synbiotics (but not the probiotics alone) had demonstrated anti-cancer effects.2 They seem to do this because when fermented by probiotics they produce short-chain fatty acids which are antibacterial and also alter gene expression in tumor cells.3
In lab studies, inulin and FOS have been found to slow down the growth of invading pathogens while boosting the beneficial probiotic count. In humans, the prebiotics also boost probiotic bacteria, and also inhibit disease progression.4
Inulin, perhaps the best-known prebiotic fiber, has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.5
Inulin is also increasingly being used to boost calcium absorption, especially in dairy foods since dairy has a natural affinity in consumers’ minds with calcium content. “Inulin has been shown to improve calcium absorption in some studies, though not in others,” said calcium researcher Robert Heaney, PhD, from Creighton University in Nebraska.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice.