Probiotics are living microorganisms, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium found in fermented foods or supplements that promote good health by improving the balance of intestinal bacteria. Probiotics are thought to reduce allergic reactivity without harming our ability to fight off disease causing organisms. There is promising research utilizing probiotics: A 2003 study published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology showed that a sourdough bread containing wheat, millet and buckwheat flours mixed with the addition of lactobacilli and fermented for 24 hours was well-tolerated by patients with Celiac Disease. More recently, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology showed that 3 different strains of probiotics reduced the amount and growth of streptococcus pyogenes, a main cause of upper respiratory infections. However, antibiotics are the main course of treatment for such infections and the antibiotics reduce the effectiveness of the immune enhancing probiotic strains. The good news is that the probiotics could possibly replace the rampant use of antibiotics in helping our immune systems fight off upper respiratory and possibly other infections.
Prebiotics, as opposed to probiotics, are natural food substances that pass undigested into the lower intestine and support our health by feeding and promoting beneficial bacteria in our intestines. These prebiotics include soluble fiber and other carbohydrates that are found naturally in many plant foods. Examples are the gummy liquid in canned beans, the stickiness in oatmeal and the pectin in fruit; pectin is what causes fruit jelly to set as a gel. Prebiotics are also found naturally in vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, okra, onions, summer squash varieties; fruits such as bananas, apples, citrus fruits and others; legumes such as beans, peas and lentils; and whole grains such as corn, barley, oats and wheat. Prebiotics also occur naturally in breast milk, which is another benefit of many to breastfeeding babies. More research is revealing that prebiotics, which are naturally occurring in foods, have anti-cancer, immune fighting and other beneficial properties.
Changing our diets to include an adequate amount of a wide variety of prebiotics occurring naturally in foods may be the most important lifestyle change we can make versus the inundation of probiotic supplements occurring in everything from Infant Formula to granola bars. Additionally, research on the addition of probiotics to food is in its infancy with much to be learned whereas prebiotics are considered safer as they are naturally occurring in foods.