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Ingredient Review: Prebiotics

Common Name: Prebiotics, bacteria “food”

Source: There are various types – mostly fibers – that are called “prebiotics.”

Background:Prebіоtісѕ аrе fibers which are used as “food” by helpful bacteria to promote healthy gut function. We are learning more and more about the delicate balance of power between “good” and “bad” gut bacteria and as we do we are recognizing that helping “good” bacteria thrive is an essential element to gut health.

Claims: Prebiotics are used to promote healthy (“good”) gut bacteria live and fight off “bad” bacteria.

Objective Information: Here is what we know – the quick and dirty science of it:

Prebiotics are a group of fibers. Here’s the official World Health Organization (WHO) definition: “a non-viable food component that confers a health benefit on the host associated with modulation of microbiota.”

Translated: “food” for the “good” bacteria in your gut – but not food for you.

If you’re interested, here’s a list of some of the most common types of produced prebiotics:

Fructans, such as inulin and oligofructose, are considered the most effective. According to a research article published by Wang in 20091, there are five selection criteria for these prebiotics:

Side effects: Probiotics – “good” bacteria taken in adequate amounts – do not have many side effects. Because they are by nature not the type to cause disease, they are useful and pass through without causing harm. For the two most common genera used in human probiotics: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, they can generally be taken without any side effects at all.

Subjective Information: Prebiotics may be used in place of probiotics in some cases, however, the use of probiotics and prebiotics together works best. Some claim that you must take a wide variety of prebiotics, however, the number of prebiotics needed is not known. Some people can take 2-3 and have positive effects. It is not necessary to take as many as you can find (some products use over 10 different fibers).

Recommendation: There are many possible “pros” and very few if any “cons” to the use of prebiotics. By definition, these are NON-digestible to you, but help your “good” bacteria win their war in your intestine. As with anything, results may vary from case to case, but with a risk profile that is relatively safe, they are worth a try in almost every case.

The concurrent use of PRE-biotics (“food” for PRO-biotics) is also recommended in order to maximize the effectiveness of the bacteria.

Prebiotics - Helpful

ALWAYS tell your doctor, pharmacist, and other healthcare providers about any and all dietary supplements that you take. Some supplements can interact or interfere with prescription medications so it is very important to let them know *all* of the supplements that you take – even if you don’t take them regularly.

Now you know, but as always, what you do with the information is up to you.

  1. Wang Y. Prebiotics: Present and future in food science and technology. Food Res. Int. 2009;42:8–12. 


Dr. Nick

Dr. Nick has been practicing medicine for over 10 years. After finishing his MD he began his residency in Laboratory Medicine where he gained first hand knowledge of some of the effects of dietary supplements. Dr. Nick now specializes in gastrointestinal health, Over the years of vigorous study and in-depth experimenting with a variety of dietary supplements Dr. Nick found that there are few sources of clear, evidence-backed, honest information about what the supplements can help achieve - and what they cannot. There are many companies out there selling promises without providing results.

Dr. Nick's goal is to educate the general public and do his part to help the world get healthy again. The industry needed an honest educated practitioner to reveal the real benefits of specific dietary supplements and to unbiasedly dig into the formulas and companies selling these formulas to reveal the true Pros and Cons of each supplement and to educate the general public about these ingredients found in various dietary supplements. Dr. Nick promoting general health and proper use of nutritional supplements is step one of the goal. In order to get the best effects without wasting time and money, a proper understanding of chemistry and human physiology are critically important. Since not everyone has the time to master these topics, Dr. Nick hopes to help clarify otherwise complicated topics and give the best, clear, evidence-backed input to help each person select the most appropriate supplements.