Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.
If you spend any time with mainstream media, you'd think we were at war – with bacteria. Hardly a week goes by without a red-alert food scare: ground beef and leafy greens contaminated with E. coli; Salmonella in peanut butter, cookie dough, nuts, peppers, granola bars and more. (1) We've been told to sanitize our counter tops and sold on antibacterial soaps. No water? No problem. We've got spray disinfectants and anti-microbial gels. Been to the supermarket lately? Complimentary hand sanitizers accompany each cart. Whew!
It's no wonder we think all bacteria are bad. But in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. Consider our gastro-intestinal (GI) tracts for a moment. Did you know that the human gut provides a home to more than 3.5 pounds of microbes? These natural gut bacteria – our personal "microflora" -- are unique and vital to our health. Millions of "good bacteria" help us resist infections and aid in the digestion and absorption of critical nutrients. (2,3)
If you've ever taken an antibiotic, which kills the good along with the bad bacteria inhabiting our bodies, you may have experienced gas, cramping and diarrhea – signs that your gut microbes are out of balance. It's estimated that about 40% of children who take an antibiotic will experience antibiotic-associated diarrhea. (4) That's why smart doctors and dietitians recommend eating yogurt, with "live, active cultures," or consuming "probiotics," during and after a course of antibiotic treatment to help restore the healthful bacteria in the GI tract. (2)(5,6)
The same micro-organisms that transform liquid organic milk into creamy smooth organic yogurt can help promote a healthy microbial community in our gut. Probiotics present in yogurt, fermented foods and supplements can help prevent constipation, reduce allergic reactions, and limit the duration of infectious diarrhea in children. (2,4,6)
By definition, a probiotic is a live bacteria or a mixture of live micro-organisms which provide a health benefit to the host. The actions of probiotics vary according to species, strain and dose, but overall show promise in promoting intestinal function and strengthening our immune response.
A prebiotic is a water-soluble, dietary fiber that provides a nutrient source to the probiotics, and stimulates the growth of the beneficial bacteria in our intestines. In short, think of a prebiotic as food for the good bacteria in our gut. Prebiotics occur naturally in many common foods, such as leeks, asparagus, chicory, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onion, grains, honey, bananas and soybeans, but who knew?
Finally, the term "synbiotic" describes a food or supplement that contains both pre- and probiotics. In combination, the two are more beneficial than either one alone. Prebiotics, for example, help enhance the beneficial effects of probiotic bacteria in the gut. (3,4) So when you see the term "synbiotic," think "synergy" or, 1 +1 =3!
* Yogurt is an ideal medium for pre- and probiotics because its acidity is important to the survival of both pre- and probiotics under refrigerated temperatures. (3)
* Inulin, a prebiotic, appears to improve calcium absorption in young adolescents. (11)
* Organic Valley's "live," lowfat pourable organic yogurt contains 2 grams of natural inulin per serving, sourced from organic Jerusalem artichokes.
* Organic Valley's Live, Organic, Lowfat Pourable Yogurt contains traditional live active cultures, plus a unique blend of pre- and probiotics called "Thrive™." This "synbiotic" combination includes Bifidobacterium BB-12 (over 10 billion per serving). Present at these levels, BB-12 can help enhance both our immune and digestive systems.