If you have walked through the supplement section of any grocery store, pharmacy or health food establishment lately, you have no doubt seen a huge number of probiotics and prebiotics on the shelves. The labels typically describe exactly what is inside and what it has the potential to do for your health.

The human stomach is covered with bacteria that play a vital role in maintaining overall digestive health and has a secondary effect on your emotional state. What you eat has a profound effect on the health of your stomach. It’s essential to consume a balanced diet in order to keep a beneficial balance among the thousands of different kinds of bacteria in your stomach. When that balance is thrown off, you can become ill.

There are two things we can do to help keep the “bacteria balance” right. First, we can consume foods that assist the microbes with their job of digestion. Second, we can add microbes that we are lacking. The first approach refers to prebiotic supplements and the second to probiotics.

Should you believe the claims you read on packages? If you decide to purchase one of these products after doing your own research, what kinds of precautions should you take?

Here’s a summary of what every consumer should know about prebiotics and probiotics:

Probiotics

All probiotics contain living organisms, most of which are composed of beneficial varieties of bacteria that add to the ones already inside your digestive tract. It’s possible to get probiotics either from the foods you eat or from supplements you purchase in the store. Most people are familiar with a very popular probiotic called yogurt. Yogurt’s unique benefit is that it is created by fermenting ordinary milk and leaving the added bacteria in the resulting food.

You’re probably familiar with other fermented, probiotic foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. The probiotic supplements you buy also have living organisms in them. Depending on the particular supplement, there might be one or more strains of helpful bacteria included in a dose.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics help the bacteria that is already in your digestive tract. They actually perform a role similar to fertilizer on farmland and, in fact, contain particular types of plant fibers that assist the bacteria present in your stomach and stimulate the growth of additional bacteria. When you eat vegetables and fruits, you are adding beneficial prebiotics to your body.

You can find lists of food that are high in prebiotics by doing a quick online search. You might be surprised to see some of your favorites on the roster, like yams and asparagus. Speaking with your doctor is another smart way to find out about natural ways to add more prebiotics to your system without having to take supplements.

Common Health Benefits

Why are pre- and probiotic supplements among the best-selling items in the health industry today, with more than four million consumers turning to them on a regular basis? For one thing, usage is up more than 300 percent from 2007 levels, which means consumers are finding something about prebiotics and probiotics that they find helpful. And in addition to a wealth of scientific data backing up a long list of benefits, both supplements are able to deliver solid, real-world results.

Those convincing results include the ability to successfully treat a wide range of allergy-related ailments, diarrhea, obesity, the common cold and even irritable bowel syndrome. Research is currently underway to establish the effectiveness of both probiotics and prebiotics as possible remedies for certain types of arthritis and many other medical maladies.

It’s no wonder, then, that these supplements continue to fly off store shelves and continue to gain new adherents every day.

Health benefits of probiotics and prebiotics include:

  • Allergy relief
  • Diarrhea treatment
  • A remedy for irritable bowel syndrome
  • As a preventive and treatment for the common cold
  • Possible effective treatment for obesity
  • Possible source of relief from various kinds of arthritis

What to Know Before Buying

Keep in mind that there are literally thousands of different varieties of bacteria in the supplements on store shelves. Additionally, when you choose one, be sure to check out the concentration of the beneficial ingredient. Some sellers use just tiny, possibly ineffective, amounts of key ingredients but charge the same price as other manufacturers do for supplements with the right amount of a particular ingredient.

Try to match the specific pro- or prebiotic supplement with the condition you are attempting to address. There is a lot of research backing up many of the health claims of both pro- and prebiotics, but you should always do research yourself and try to learn the specifics of what the medical community thinks about a product you are considering.

Perhaps the wisest way to proceed is to speak with your health care provider. At Delaware Integrative Health Care, our licensed, experience physicians and nurses can help you make smart selections from among the hundreds of probiotic and prebiotic supplements on the market.

Possible Side Effects

The first thing to know is that general use of prebiotics and probiotics is considered completely safe for healthy adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, some people report minor side effects from taking both types of these supplements, like decreased appetite, constipation and gas. There have also been some instances reported of acid reflux and bloating.

It’s important for anyone who decides to try out probiotics and prebiotics to make sure they are not allergic to any of the bacteria in the supplements. This warning applies to anything you decide to add to your diet and, in fact, is very good advice for everyone. If you begin taking either supplement, for example, and develop a rash or a stomach ache, you should not take it any more until you have spoken with your doctor and found out the cause of the stomach pain or skin reaction. This is simply a case of good common sense and you should always monitor your body for changes after eating or drinking anything you’ve never had before.

In most cases, because so many parents wonder about what is safe to give to children, it’s okay to give probiotics to a child if a doctor recommends to do so. Sometimes, a physician will add probiotics to a child’s diet in order to counteract the negative effects of antibiotics. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, pro- and prebiotics are also considered to be safe, but always be sure to speak with your health care provider before taking anything outside of your ordinary food and drink when you’re breastfeeding or pregnant.

What’s the Next Step in Your Health Journey?

At Delaware Integrative Health Care, our entire team of physicians has experience bringing drug-free, surgery-free medical solutions to people who seek lifelong wellness. If you’d like to know more about healthful remedies for any medical challenge you face, contact us for a free consultation and get all your questions answered.