Prebiotics Feed Probiotics

by Dr. Jason Bush February 19, 2018

Prebiotics Feed Probiotics

Probiotic supplementation has become an important part of the daily routine for many people.  Research continues to support the role of probiotics in a variety of preventative measures and intervention strategies, and approval of these health claims by regulatory bodies like Health Canada further speaks to the value these important supplements provide.  But getting the most out of your probiotic supplement requires additional work, especially if you are following a restrictive diet.

Probiotics are living organisms and require sources of nutrition in order to survive.  We share this requirement with probiotic bacteria and every other living thing on Earth.  Unlike most creatures, probiotic bacteria make their home in our digestive tract and the sources of their nutrition are limited to the parts of our food that we cannot digest.

For this reason, it is critical that our diet includes prebiotics, non-digestible carbohydrates that pass intact through our stomach and small intestine and become available to the healthy bacteria living in our large intestine.  The amount and various forms of prebiotics present in the diet are a major factor in determining the composition of bacteria in the gut microbiome.  When it comes to supporting the bacteria found in your probiotic supplements, it is important to consider two factors:

  1. Ensure that your diet has enough prebiotic material to adequately support high levels of healthy probiotic bacteria.

Unfortunately, food labels do not explicitly list prebiotic contents but you can get a good estimate by choosing plant-based foods that contain high amounts of fiber.  Depending on the type of food, some of that fiber will be fermentable fiber (aka. Prebiotics).

  1. Make sure that the type of prebiotic you are consuming will actually support the probiotic supplements you are taking.

As might be expected, different types of prebiotics are favored by different types of probiotics, so it is important to obtain a variety of prebiotics, including inulin and digestion resistant starch.  Digestion resistant starch is thought to support various beneficial Bifidobacteria while inulin has a “Lactobacilligenic effect” according to gastrointestinal researcher Dr. Massimo Marzorati of ProDigest.  It is important to ensure that your probiotic supplement receives nutrition tailored to its dietary preferences.

For people following restrictive diets, it may be more important to choose a probiotic supplement that is compatible with your diet.  For example, people following Low FODMAP or Gluten-Free diets are likely consuming very low levels of inulin.  Pairing a probiotic containing several strains of Bifidobacteria along with a gluten-free digestion resistant starch supplement will conform with these diets while providing synergistic benefits to the gut.

Dr. Jason Bush
Dr. Jason Bush