As interest has increased in the gut microbiome and baby gut health, a number of products have entered the market that claim to help foster a healthy gut environment. The most popular are probiotics and prebiotics, and the two are often confused. While both are useful, they serve different purposes in cultivating and maintaining intestinal health.
According to the WHO, probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. Several varieties of both yeast and bacteria are used in probiotic supplements; the most common are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria strains.1 However, not all probiotics are equal, and this is especially true with respect to infants.
Historically, probiotics have been taken with the hope to relieve symptoms such as gas, bloating, or other digestive issues.1 However, new research has found that baby gut health is connected to other conditions such as eczema, allergies, obesity, and diabetes. Probiotics may have a much larger impact on overall health, and not just the health of the gastrointestinal system.2-4
A dietary prebiotic, on the other hand, is a component of food that selectively feeds intestinal bacteria. To be termed a “prebiotic,” a substrate must be selectively utilized by bacteria, so not all carbohydrates are prebiotics.6
1. Sanders ME, Akkermans LMA, Haller D et al. Safety assessment of probiotics for human use. Gut Microbes. 2010;1(3):164-185.
2. Postler TS and Ghosh S. Understanding the holobiont: how microbial metabolites affect human health and shape the immune system. Cell Metab. 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.05.008.
3. Sanders ME. Impact of probiotics on colonizing microbiota of the gut. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2011;45 Suppl:S115-119.
4. Cryan, JF and Dinan TG. Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behavior. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2012;13(10):701-712.
5. Zivkovic AM and Barile D. Bovine milk as a source of functional oligosaccharides for improving human health. Adv Nutr. 2011;2:284-289.
6. Bindels, Laure B., et al. "Towards a more comprehensive concept for prebiotics." Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology 12.5 (2015): 303-310.
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