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What Are Synbiotics? Exploring This Probiotic and Prebiotic Combo

synbiotic capsules in a spoon with vegetables behind it

Synbiotics, also known as complementary synbiotics, are a blend of bioactive compounds that work together to enhance the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

These nutritional supplements have a major role to play in optimizing colmicrobiota, the complex and dynamic community of microorganisms that inhabit the human gastrointestinal tract (GI). There is a strong correlation between the state of health or disease in humans and the condition of gut microbiota.

If your microbiota has changed or has been altered in any way (a condition called dysbiosis), it can lead to inflammation and/or infection. Synbiotics, with their synergistic effect, are useful in maintaining an optimal environment for the beneficial and health-boosting gut bacteria to grow and thrive.

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about the "gut heroes" called synbiotics. 

Key Takeaways

  • Synbiotics combine probiotics and prebiotics for optimal gut health.
  • Prebiotics selectively support beneficial gut bacteria, while probiotics are live microorganisms with health benefits.
  • Synbiotics offer digestion support, balanced gut bacteria, a strengthened immune system, and potential relief for digestive disorders and allergies.
  • Limitations include limited evidence for specific conditions and individual response variation.
  • Potential risks include mild side effects like bloating or gas.
  • Synbiotics also benefit animal health by improving growth and nutrient absorption.
  • The future of synbiotics is promising, with expected growth in various product segments.

What Are Synbiotics?

Synbiotics are a mixture of prebiotics and probiotics that beneficially affect the host (in this case, the human gut) by boosting the activity and function of good bacterial strains. They also support the production of bioactive compounds, natural substances that have health benefits over and above their nutritional value.

Synbiotics represent the concept of prebiotics and probiotics working together synergistically, optimizing gut health. When there's synergy between two substances, it means that their combined effect produces the best result over individual effects. But we'll cover more information about probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics in the next section.

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The Synbiotic Combination of Probiotics and Prebiotics

Synbiotics, prebiotics, and probiotics are all considered functional food supplements that help promote the growth of healthy microbiota. In this way, they contribute to maintaining homeostasis or a steady state in the gut.

Probiotics, as officially defined by the WHO (World Health Organization) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), are "live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host." That simply means that in the right quantities, they can improve the health of the person consuming them.

Probiotic strains include L. (lactobacillus) rhamnosus, L. acidophilus-group, certain strains of L. casei, L. amylovorus, L. brevis, L . crispatus, Bacillus coagulans, Escherichia coli strain Nissle 1917, certain enterococci, especially Enterococcus faeciumSF68, and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii (i.e., it's not a bacteria).

Examples of probiotic foods are yoghurt, tempeh, kombucha, fermented meats, vegetables, grains, sourdough bread, etc.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are "non-digestible substrates that are selectively utilized by host microorganisms, conferring a health benefit." They're mostly (but not always) derived from fibres and can be sourced naturally or synthesized in the lab. They can also be sourced from non-fibre substances like polyphenols. Here, "selective utilization" refers to being used by one or a limited number of health-promoting microorganisms within the host and not the entire host as a whole. Prebiotics are able to reach the colon without getting digested.

The ideal prebiotic can be selectively (there's that word again!) utilized by the resident microbes, especially Bifidobacterium and/or Lactobacillus. They also don't have nasty side effects like producing gas when the microbes get to work on them. They should also have varying levels of monosaccharide composition. These are just some of the specific criteria they have to match up to before being able to qualify as a prebiotic.

Inulin, oligofructose, lactose, galactooligosaccharides, and breast milk oligosaccharides are a few specific examples of prebiotics. Examples of prebiotic foods are onions, bananas, garlic, legumes, oats, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, etc.

Prebiotics provide the support needed for probiotics to flourish by serving as food and creating the optimal conditions in the gut for probiotics to grow. In this sense, the synbiotics concept was first introduced to overcome the deficiencies of probiotics used in isolation, thereby activating the metabolism of one's gut microbiota more effectively.

In synbiotics, the prebiotic ingredient supports the activity of probiotics and their metabolite production. Some of the more popular synbiotic combinations are bifidobacteria and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), Lactobacillus GG and inulins, and bifidobacteria and lactobacilli with FOS or inulins.

Health Benefits of Synbiotics

different synbiotic pills on a hand

We know that probiotics are a way to add beneficial bacteria while the addition of prebiotics creates an environment ideal for the growth of probiotics. In other words, prebiotics help probiotics survive and thrive. So, synbiotics optimize the potential health benefits of probiotics:

  • Probiotics help with the digestion of carbohydrates and proteins
  • They help balance and optimize the levels of friendly gut microbial bacteria in your digestive system
  • Synbiotics may help strengthen the immune system
  • They prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms and other pathogenic microflor
  • They help normalize the levels of cholesterol
  • They can help alleviate the symptoms of select digestive disorders
  • They may benefit in weight loss, although more research is required to substantiate this finding
  • They may benefit in reducing the symptoms of certain types of allergies and eczema

In summary, synbiotics benefit the body through the following:

  • Optimizing the intestinal environment
  • Immunomodulation
  • Metabolic effects

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The Limitations of Synbiotics

Like any other product, synbiotics have certain limitations that you should be aware of. Here are some important points to consider regarding the limitations of synbiotics.

1. Limited evidence for specific health conditions:

Although synbiotics show potential in promoting gut health and immune function, their effectiveness in treating specific conditions is limited. Further research is needed to fully understand their capabilities in managing conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, and other health claims. 

2. Individual response may vary:

Each person's gut microbiota is unique, which means that individuals may respond differently to synbiotics. What works for one person may not have the same effect on another. This inherent variability in the human gut ecosystem makes it challenging to predict how synbiotics will work for everyone. It's crucial to remember that personal experience may differ from what scientific studies suggest.

3. Shelf stability and formulation challenges:

Synbiotics are made up of live bacteria (probiotics) and fibre-rich substances (prebiotics). Maintaining the viability of the probiotic strains throughout the production process and shelf life can be a challenge. Environmental factors like temperature, moisture, and oxygen exposure can affect the stability of these live organisms and subsequently reduce their effectiveness. Ensuring that the chosen synbiotic product has been properly tested for stability is vital to maximize its potential benefits.

In my experience the Seed Synbiotic is one of the best available, and is fact one of the most well researched and formulated supplements of any kind we've come across. 

Potential Risks of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics

There is a growing interest in probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics as a means to improve gut health and overall well-being. While there are numerous benefits associated with their usage, it is important to be aware that there may be side effects to consider.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are believed to have a positive effect on the digestive system. Some individuals may experience mild side effects when taking probiotics, such as bloating or gas, especially during the initial stages of supplementation. However, these symptoms typically subside as the body adjusts.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible fibres that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, like colonic microbiota, in the gut. In some cases, consuming large amounts of prebiotics may lead to increased gas production and bloating. It is essential to gradually increase prebiotic intake to avoid these side effects.

Synbiotics are believed to provide synergistic benefits. While they are generally safe, individuals with compromised immune systems or those taking medications should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation.

Synbiotics for Animal Health

As the human population continues to grow, food production needs to match up to meet the increasing needs. Synbiotics have found applications in feed additives, contributing to the health of animal hosts by improving the survival and implantation of live microbial dietary supplements. In this sense, synbiotic additives help contribute to the increase in growth performance, feed conversion ratio, and other important hematological and biochemical parameters. Synbiotics also help animals absorb and digest valuable nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and proteins.

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Conclusion

Synbiotics are a great way to synthesize the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics to benefit not just human health but also animal health. The formulation and production of effective synergistic synbiotics is still in its nascent stages. But the future looks hopeful, and we can expect to see an increase in the utility of synbiotics in the dairy, non-dairy, fermented, and non-fermented segments in the not-too-distant future.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Synbiotics

Q1. What are synbiotics examples?

The more common synbiotic examples are combinations of bifidobacteria and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), Lactobacillus GG and inulins, polyphenol-based synbiotics, and bifidobacteria and lactobacilli with FOS or inulins.

Q2. What is in synbiotics?

Synbiotics are a mixture of prebiotics combined with probiotics. Synbiotic supplementation promotes host health in both humans and animals by optimizing the formation of beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotics provide the necessary support for probiotics to grow and thrive. Prebiotics function as a food source, keeping harmful bacteria at bay and promoting the ideal environment for probiotics to grow. Bifidobacteria and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), Lactobacillus GG and inulins, and bifidobacteria and lactobacilli with FOS or inulins, are some popular synbiotic combinations.

Q3. What is the role of synbiotics?

Synbiotics are formulated to improve the health of the host (human or animal) by doing the following actions:

  • Improving the way probiotics can survive and grow in the colon.
  • Selectively stimulating the growth or metabolism of health-promoting (probiotics) in the colon.
  • Improving the microbial composition of the GI tract.

Darcy Ogdon-Nolan

Holding a Bachelor Of Science (Hons.) combined with close to a decade now in the health food and wellness industry, I believe I'm uniquely positioned to provide a depth of knowledge and first-hand experience on emerging health products, trends and ideas! From greens powders and medicinal mushrooms through to protein powders and workout nutrition - I'm particularly interested in what modern science can uncover about what human cultures have been using to treat ailments for millennia!

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