What Are Prebiotic Supplements?

Marlene Garcia

Prebiotic supplements represent fermented forms of starch that complement the action of natural, healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Called oligosaccharides, these simple sugars form naturally in some foods in small amounts. Prebiotic supplements might help balance levels of good bacteria and harmful yeast in the gut. These products might provide other health benefits, such as balancing metabolism, restoring healthy cholesterol levels, and improving immune system functioning.

Some people find prebiotic supplements ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Some people find prebiotic supplements ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Oligosaccharides support the action of probiotics, also called microflora, or healthy bacteria that aid digestion. Prebiotics serve as nourishment for probiotics and allow them to flourish because prebiotics do not degrade when exposed to stomach acid. Yeast in the gut also feeds on simple sugars and might deplete healthy microflora. Prebiotic supplements trigger the growth of live bacteria to keep levels balanced.

Two main forms of prebiotic supplements exist as additives in food. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) represent common substances in cereal, baked goods, and some infant formulas. These sugars might come from fruit or grains that form carbohydrate molecules needed to promote healthy digestion. Some bottled water also contains these additives.

Grains containing natural forms of prebiotics include wheat, oats, and soybeans. This substance also exists in bananas, onions, leeks, some herbs, and apple cider vinegar. The prebiotic content in food typically does not meet the recommended dose of 5 grams a day, especially if diets lack fresh fruit and vegetables. Consumers might need to check labels before buying prebiotic supplements to ensure sufficient levels exist to provide health benefits.

Prebiotic supplements may also enhance absorption of calcium, which is important for growing children to support healthy bones and teeth. Studies show supplements might also regulate cholesterol levels and reduce the formation of plaque in arteries. The body’s immune system might also function better when sufficient prebiotic levels are attained through diet or supplements by boosting the production of white blood cells that fight infection.

The use of antibiotics might disrupt bacteria levels in the intestinal tract by destroying healthy microflora along with germs that cause illness. Modern diets full of processed foods might also cause a deficiency of these substances, along with stress. Some people find prebiotic supplements ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

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