Nutrition: Carbohydrates Chapter 14

Prebiotics & Probiotics


Probiotics: The “It” Bacteria

Probiotics are enjoying a spot on the nutritional A List these days, thanks to preliminary evidence of their health benefits. They may support a healthy immune system and protect against disease-causing microorganisms living in the intestinal tract. READ MORE

Recognized as a “good” bacteria, probiotics are similar to microorganisms already found in the human intestinal tract, especially in those of breastfed infants. From external sources they can be derived from supplements or more naturally from their lesser-known precursors, prebiotics — which are most readily available in high-fiber carbohydrates such as bananas, artichokes, berries, flax, garlic, legumes, and whole grains.

Intestinal Powerhouses

The human body is all about balance, and probiotics play a vital role in maintaining a healthy equilibrium between good (healthful) and bad bacteria (disease-causing microorganisms) in the gut.

Pre/Pro Studies Underway

Researchers are trying to determine whether probiotics stop bad microorganisms dead in their tracks and/or suppress their growth or activity in a number of gastrointestinal conditions, including:

  • Infectious diarrhea

  • Pouchitis (a condition that can follow surgery to remove the colon)

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (i.e., ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)

  • Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium that causes most ulcers

  • Varieties of chronic stomach inflammation

Also subject to probiotic activity: tooth decay and periodontal disease, vaginal infections, and the strains of stomach and respiratory infections commonly acquired by young children in daycare, schools, and play groups. LESS


Risks in Question

Researchers are still studying the safety of probiotics. Antibiotics, taken for common infections, can throw off the balance between healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut, killing both types of bacteria and causing gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea. The treatment may be to eat more foods containing probiotics. READ MORE

On the other hand, it’s possible that probiotics might cause infections that need to be treated with antibiotics, especially in people with underlying health conditions. They may also cause unhealthy metabolic activities, too much stimulation of the immune system, or gene transfer (insertion of genetic material into a cell). Scientists want to learn more about the safety of probiotics for young children, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems.

Preliminary studies to date indicate that side effects tend to be mild and digestive, such as gas or bloating, though more serious side effects have been seen as well.

Effects from one species or strain of probiotics do not necessarily hold true for others, or even for different preparations of the same species or strain. It also remains unclear whether certain probiotics or probiotic combinations can be targeted against specific diseases.

Can You Safely Add Probiotic Supplements to Your Diet?

The answer appears to be yes, but check with your doctor first. To determine if a product contains probiotics, look for a label statement that says it contains “live and active cultures” such as lactobacillus. You can also find capsules, tablets, powders, and liquid extracts with specific types of probiotics at health and natural food stores and vitamin shops. LESS


The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.