Living Unrefined

Health Benefits of Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics health benefits

Probiotics; Intestinal Flora is Vital to Life.

In a word, probiotics are bacteria. For our purposes we are talking about the bacteria that live in our intestines and impart many known healthful benefits to us.

In actuality we know very little about these squatters in our guts but new findings are coming fast and furious.

What is known is that they are indispensible for proper digestion, absorption, elimination and provide numerous housekeeping duties and a broad array of protective measures.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), both specialized agencies of the UN, have adopted an official definition of probiotics; namely, “…live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.

I’m comfortable with just calling them friendly bacteria that our gastrointestinal system. Normally, we wouldn’t need to supplement with probiotics; they are inside us and self-sustaining. The best source of probiotics is whole foods, particularly fermented foods such as yogurt.

If someone lives on processed food and doesn’t like yogurt or dairy products, then it might be a good idea to use a dietary supplement designed for colon support; one that is rich in fiber and contains various probiotics, prebiotics and enzymes. My personal experience is that such a supplement did seem to help my colon deal with the irritable bowel syndrome that I had been living with most of my adult life.



Probiotics are not the same thing as prebiotics. A prebiotic is a non-digestible food ingredient that selectively stimulates the growth and/or activity of beneficial microorganisms already in people’s colons. In plain language, probiotics need to be fed and prebiotics are the food that sustain them.

Fiber products are the best and most prevalent souce of prebiotic compounds; particularly, inulin and its metabolites, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).

Sources for inulin include chicory root, Jerusalem Artichoke, leeks and onions. Just three ounces of chicory root contain 24 grams of inulin and 43 grams of FOS.

It is so important that we are now seeing fiber cereals fortified with inulin. Many liquid meal replacement drinks on the market now contain inulin. Be advised, however, that an intake over 15 grams at a time can cause gastric upset.

When probiotics and prebiotics are mixed together, they form a synbiotic. OK, new word time;

What’s a synbiotic?


A synbiotic is a substance, either whole food or supplement, that contains both a prebiotic and a probiotic that work together to improve the “friendly flora” of the human intestine. A synbiotic product should be considered a “functional food” rather than some obscure chemistry formulation.

One of the mysteries that is drawing big research dollars now is why our immune system, which is known to attack and kill invading bacteria and viruses, doesn’t attack the beneficial bacteria living in and on our bodies.

It is starting to look like we and the bacteria that live within us have evolved together and learned to co-exist in a symbiotic relationship.

The NIH weighs in!

Microbial organisms that inhabit our bodies are so numerous that the National Institutes of Health has launched its Human Microbiome Project.

It’s a five-year, $125 million dollar research effort to analyze entire communities of bacteria at once; a process they call metagenomics.

By contrast the former Human Genome Project analyzed one microbe at a time.

To put it in perspective, we have about 60 trillion cells in our body, give or take 10 or 20 trillion. It is estimated that we have about 10 times that number of microbes crawling around in us spread throughout our nasal and respiratory system, urogenital areas, skin, gastrointestinal system and mouth.

As such, the NIH launched the Human Microbiome Project to generate resources leading to the characterization of human microbes and analysis of their role in human health and disease.

The project aims to take advantage of recent technological advances and to develop new ones. Phase 1 ran from 2007 through 2012 and was to catalog the composition and diversity of the microbes that inhabit our bodies. Phase 2 runs from 2013 to 2015 and aims to create a database of biological properties of the microbiome.