You might be asking yourself, “What are biotics?” because it seems like lately you can’t turn on your television without seeing some sort of ad raving about their benefits. You might even think you want to try some of these products to see what they can do. Here’s some information on probiotics and their lesser known (but just as important) counterparts, prebiotics.
More than likely, you might have a least some idea of probiotics, but in order to fully answer the question of “What are biotics?” you have to include prebiotics. These are fibers the body can’t digest that are found in a lot of different foods, such as garlic, bananas, sourdough bread, and many others. Even though these fibers are non-digestible, they are vital to the beneficial microbes in our gastrointestinal tract. Much like gas fuels an engine, prebiotics fuel probiotics.
But prebiotics are much more than a food source for the good bacteria in our gut. Research indicates they can also provide their own substantial health benefits. These are just a few of them.
Helping the Immune System Do its Job
The immune system is what helps protect us from a lot of different illnesses, ranging from relatively minor (in most cases) respiratory infections such as the cold and flu, to potentially devastating digestive problems. Studies show that increasing your prebiotic intake can provide a boost to your immune system. One theory is that prebiotics help the body break down important nutrients from food and also lower the pH of the gastrointestinal tract. This, in turn, helps inhibit the growth of harmful microbes.1
Boosting Digestive Health
As bacteria feed on prebiotic fibers, this starts a process that eventually creates vital short-chain fatty acids such as butyric acid. This is one of the most important short-chain fatty acids, because it helps strengthen the walls of both the small and large intestines. However, prebiotics also help create several other acids that play key roles in helping us maintain our digestive health, such as ensuring regular bowel movements and making sure we have enough electrolytes.2
There are a lot of beneficial bacteria in our body (more on these later) that help reduce the symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.3 Prebiotics are vitally important, because they provide the fuel these good bacteria need in order to thrive.
Reducing Potentially Damaging Inflammation
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the body, of course, and inflammation is one of the main contributing factors. Research shows that prebiotics have an effect on some of the metabolic processes that can eventually inflame tissues and muscles, potentially reducing inflammation.4 In addition, prebiotics can also affect the way the body stores fat.
Lowering Bad Cholesterol
Everybody knows that cholesterol can contribute to clogged arteries and heart disease. The main culprit is low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. Studies indicate that one particular strain of beneficial bacteria known as Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri) helps reduce the development of LDL cholesterol in the blood. It does so, researchers believe, by inhibiting the growth of LDL building blocks – esters. If esters can’t form, LDL cholesterol molecules can’t attach themselves to fatty acids. As a result, LDL can’t clog the arteries.5
When considering the question of, “What are biotics?” probiotics are the ones featured in all of those ads you see on television, newspapers, and the internet. But you might not be completely sure exactly why they’re so important.
Although you don’t feel it, there’s a war going on in your gut. The combatants are good bacteria, such as L. reuteri and other members of the Lactobacillus family, as well as members of the Bifidobacterium group of beneficial bacteria. These “good guys” wage battle against harmful bacteria for control of the gastrointestinal tract. If the harmful ones take over, that can lead to digestive problems and other health issues.
Probiotics are designed to make sure there is a proper balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. They come in a lot of forms, such as freeze-dried powders, capsules, drinks, chewable products, and more. These are just some of the health benefits research indicates probiotic bacteria can deliver.
Lower Blood Pressure
Researchers looked at nine studies involving more than 500 patients suffering from high blood pressure see whether or not probiotics have any sort of effect. Results from eight of these studies showed that probiotics can play a role in lowering not only diastolic but also systolic blood pressure. According to researchers, patients who ingested multiple types of beneficial bacteria through probiotic supplements had lower numbers than those who used products containing just a single bacterium. However, both groups had lower readings than patients who didn’t take probiotics.6
Studies also indicate that probiotics can help reduce the chances of someone developing respiratory problems, particularly young people. Researchers looked at a wide range of studies and found that children who took probiotics experienced fewer respiratory issues than those who did not take probiotic supplements.7
Improved Dental and Skin Health
While probiotics are typically associated with helping reduce the symptoms of digestive problems, they may provide some unexpected benefits. For example, one study shows that Lactobacillus bacteria can help reduce both tooth decay as well as gingivitis.8 Another study showed that pregnant women who took probiotics had a lower risk of having children who eventually develop a skin condition known as eczema.9
Probiotics not only help make sure there is a good balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut, they also do so in the vagina. Women who use probiotics, according to research, may have a better chance of warding off problems such as urinary tract infections and yeast infections.10
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you will decide to further explore the question of, “What are biotics?” by trying some for yourself. You can find many products that contain both probiotics and prebiotics online, or in your nearest grocery store or drugstore. Just make sure you get permission from your doctor. Even though probiotics are safe for healthy people, they sometimes cause problems for people who have a compromised immune system or severe intestinal issues.