What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a source of food for probiotics to grow, multiply and survive in the gut.
Prebiotics are fibres which cannot be absorbed or broken down by the body and therefore serve as a great food source for probiotics, in particular the Bifidobacteria genus, to increase in numbers. The most common definition of prebiotics is: "non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, which can improve host health."
Prebiotics occur naturally in our diet and prebiotic fibres can be found in Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, chicory, and onions amongst other things. One may have to eat large quantities of these foods to have a ‘bifidogenic’ effect – that is to increase the levels of friendly bacteria in our intestines. For this reason many people find it easier to take a prebiotic supplement, or a combination probiotic and prebiotic supplement (called a synbiotic) to ensure they are feeding their levels of friendly bacteria.
Research shows that there are different types of prebiotics, in a similar manner as there are different types of probiotics. With prebiotics, the key differentiating factor is the length of the chemical chain – short chain; medium chain or long chain determines where in the gastrointestinal tract the prebiotic has its effect, and how the benefits may be felt by the host.
Common prebiotics include: inulin, Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), lactulose and lafinose.
Within the OptiBac Probiotics range, the prebiotic FOS can be found in 'For every day', 'One week flat' (formerly called 'For a flat stomach'), 'For babies & children' and 'Bifidobacteria & fibre' (formerly 'For maintaining regularity'). Fructooligosaccharides prebiotics are low molecular weight carbohydrates which only promote growth of probiotics. FOS is probably the most researched of the prebiotic fibres.
For more information on prebiotics, healthcare professionals can read the in-depth article and research analysis by Dr Georges Mouton, 'The Uses of Prebiotics'.
NB: In some cases, prebiotics can cause minor disturbance / flatulence in the first few days of taking them… but after 3-4 days of continued use (once the intestines have adapted to the prebiotics) this discomfort tends to disappear. Many practitioners make their clients aware of this when recommending prebiotics, especially in higher doses.
For more in-depth information about prebiotics, see :Probiotics & Prebiotics