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Tasty Tuesday by Anna Grindeland, RD, CD: Prebiotics and probiotics

Anna Grindeland, RD, CD

Written by Whitman Hospital Dietitian, Leah Haak-Beck, RD, CD

Working in healthcare, the chances are that you know that our digestive tract contains beneficial bacteria. In fact, the number of bacterial cells in and on the body, outnumber your body’s cells!

The gut microbiome is a hot topic in nutrition and healthcare. We are learning more and more about how changes in gut flora in human bodies interact to support health or to trigger disease. While research is in its infancy, links have already been made between gut dysbiasis (changes in bacteria population in the gut) and several diseases and conditions.

Research is also being done with dietary or supplemental probiotics and their connection to symptom reduction and preventative treatment of certain conditions. So far, studies have suggested that probiotics are beneficial in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea, vaginal yeast infection and UTI prevention, treating irritable bowel syndrome and reducing severity and duration of certain intestinal infections and colds/flu. And this is just the beginning of the research!

How can we keep our gut microbiota healthy?

Let’s start with the basics:

Prebiotics: in a word – FIBER! Prebiotics are food parts that are non-digestible by humans. These food parts that are not able to be used by our bodies, are perfect food for our gut bacteria population. The best way to get prebiotics in the diet is to eat plant foods rich in fiber. Gut health is yet ANOTHER reason to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables! Nourish your body and your gut bacteria by eating plenty of plant foods. There is no need to take a fancy pill or supplement.

Probiotics: “good bacteria” that live in our gut. Food can also contain probiotics (live active cultures). They are most often found in fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, but can also be present in other fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh and kombucha. Supplements are also available over-the-counter.

Do I need probiotics in my diet or a probiotic supplement for gut health?

Not necessarily. Healthy bodies already contain a population of beneficial bacteria. However, like the existing flora in your gut, including probiotics in the diet may help with digestion and protection of harmful bacteria, or may be used to manage effects of certain conditions. For example, certain strains of probiotic bacteria may help ease lactose intolerance symptoms or minimize effects of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Taking priobiotic supplements is not essential or safe for everyone. Talk to your doctor if you are considering starting to take probiotics or any other dietary supplement.


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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.