What in the World Are Prebiotics

an image of leeks, which are a prebiotic

It’s a term that’s gradually gaining a fan base, especially with the growing trend of alternative and natural-based medicine. Though for most of us, prebiotic is a word that sounds new, it, in fact, is not.

Who coined the term?

The concept of prebiotics was introduced in 1995, in the Journal of Nutrition by Gibson and Roberfroid. They defined it as a ‘non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon.’

What is a prebiotic?

In real life, this term represents a dietary fiber found in inulin-containing foods such as chicory root, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, yams, garlic, onions and wheat. It serves as nourishment for the good bacteria that lives in the large intestine, also known as the colon.

What is the difference between ‘prebiotics’ and ‘probiotics’?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. Prebiotics serve to feed the good bacteria in your gut that probiotics have introduced to your gut in the first place. The synergistic combination of the two is then referred to as ‘synbiotic’.

Is this all real?

Yes. However, not much about them is known.

Gastroenterologist Matthew Blaszka, MD, of Park Medical Group in Tenafly, NJ, weighs in, “Prebiotics are marketed directly to patients as a treatment for conditions such as bloating, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. There are, however, no rigorous medical studies to support the use of prebiotics in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. Although unlikely to cause harm, their use is not warranted.”

In fact, probiotics, although prescribed and endorsed for years by medical doctors, have been shown by recent studies to provide no benefit and are a (and I quote here) “waste of money“.

So what should we make of prebiotics?

It is, for now, a term that’s becoming more popular in the alternative medicine world and, until there is more work done on the topic, likely won’t be prescribed by physicians practicing westernized medicine in pill form anytime soon.

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