More than 400 types of microorganisms are in your gastrointestinal tract. Some of these microorganisms are healthy and others are unhealthy. The healthy bacteria in your gut help digest food. They also synthesize some vitamins and essential fatty acids.

Probiotics are live microbes that can benefit your health by allowing the healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract to thrive while inhibiting or destroying toxins released by other bacteria.

Benefits of probiotics
Scientists still are learning how and why probiotics work. Some of the potential benefits include:

  • Synthesizing vitamins (particularly the B vitamins)
  • Boosting your immune system by producing antibodies for certain viruses
  • Decreasing allergies (particularly in regard to skin reactions, such as dermatitis or eczema)
  • Decreasing the risk of developing dental caries
  • Reducing the problems associated with inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Helping people with lactose intolerance digest dairy products more easily
  • Reducing symptoms of diarrhea associated with antibiotic usage or acute illness

Foods containing probiotics
Pasteurization kills probiotics, but many fermented-food manufacturers add them back into the food. Fermented foods and dairy products are the two most common sources. Strict labeling guidelines do not exist for probiotic-containing foods at this time. The dose needed for probiotics varies widely, depended on type and formulation.
The following foods contain probiotics:

  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Buttermilk
  • Kefir
  • Soy sauce
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Fresh sauerkraut

Benefits of prebiotics
Prebiotics are nondigestible substances that feed the probiotics, helping them to thrive in the GI tract. Not all probiotics consumed will survive, so it is important to consume prebiotics with probiotics.

  • Prebiotics enhance mineral absorption, particularly calcium, iron, and magnesium, possibly decreasing the risk of osteoporosis development and decreased survival of some pathogenic bacteria
  • Prebiotics may decrease cholesterol levels and also reduce the risk of colon cancer.
  • Some forms of prebiotics aid in the relief of constipation
  • Different strains of prebiotics provide different health benefits

Foods containing prebiotics

  • Chicory root
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Flax
  • Oatmeal
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Asparagus
  • Leafy greens
  • Berries
  • Bananas
  • Honey

If you have diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, constipation or just uncomfortable digestive symptoms- different strands of bacteria will be beneficial. A registered dietitian can help you find the right pre- and probiotic for you and your condition. sls

Source:, Retrieved 1/24/2013