Niagara Gazette

October 23, 2013

NATURAL HEALTH: Understanding prebiotics and probiotics

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Although I consider them essential for health, there is quite a bit of confusion on the topic of probiotics and prebiotics and on this, I’d like to shed some light. 

First understand that “pro” means “for” and “biotic” means “life,” therefore, probiotic means “for life.” Probiotics are the healthy bacteria whose functions include assisting with digestion, keeping other harmful bacteria at bay and stimulating the immune system.  A healthy gut is essential for a healthy immune system. Eighty percent of your immune system relies on this. 

Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotic growth and stimulation. Prebiotics are considered functional foods, so called because they provide health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition. Although they are also available in supplement form, prebiotics occur naturally in a number of common foods with high fiber content. This, in my opinion, is the best way to get them. 

The two most common subtypes of prebiotics are inulin and fructooligosaccharides. These pass through the small intestine without being fully digested or absorbed, making them an excellent source of food that stimulate growth of the protective bacteria in your colon. Prebiotics and probiotics work hand-in-hand to promote and protect your health. 

Prebiotic foods include asparagus, burdock, chicory, dandelion root, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, onions, whole grains, legumes and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radish and rutabaga. For people who regularly eat these foods, prebiotic supplementation should not be necessary.

Stomach upset, fatigue, dairy sensitivities and frequent colds and flu are some of the signs that your friendly bacteria need to be replenished. Antibiotics — which means “against life” — kill not only the bad bacteria, they also kill the friendly bacteria that we need for health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, even if we haven’t take prescription antibiotics, we are still regularly exposed to them.

Since half of the antibiotics produced each year are fed to animals, we take in antibiotics every time we eat meat or consume dairy products. If that is not enough, the body’s friendly bacteria is depleted by many other factors including stress, carbonation, laxatives and even the natural aging process. Birth control pills and steroid use also affect healthy bacteria colonies, making yeast infections a common condition in those using them.

Adults, children and infants would all benefit from the use of probiotics on a regular basis. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms would also benefit by minimizing allergies and illness in their children. The need for antibiotics would be greatly reduced and the hopeful reduction of resistant strains of bacteria would likely occur.  

Thankfully, many doctors are not so quick to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics, as they are aware that this has definitely contributed to the formation of “superbugs” or resistant strains of bacteria that can be deadly to us.

Once-a-day dosing makes it easy and convenient. If you notice a gurgling, bloated feeling after taking them, it may suggest a yeast or Candida overgrowth, which is indicative that you need them all the more. Many people also suffer skin rashes and infections that could have been avoided had they been taking probiotics. Wounds will heal faster and the risk for infection is greatly reduced. 

Unfortunately, not all probiotics are the same and knowing how to choose quality supplements is essential. I see many taking acidophilus, which is only one of the many strains we need and therefore not very effective as a single remedy. Although there are exceptions, I would not buy my probiotics from a refrigerator. They are typically unstable at room temperature and will most likely be unsuccessful at colonizing the lower intestinal tract. Products with multiple types of friendly bacteria work best. 

Colony counts don’t always reflect the quality of a probiotic, and this is where many of us fall into inferior products. There are many products out there that boast incredible colony counts that are very ineffective. Conversely, there are some high-quality supplements with lower counts that pack a powerful punch because they survive the digestive process. I recommend to help you choose quality supplements. There is a small fee, but I have probably saved hundreds when it comes to products that aren’t what they say. A reputable company will list the colony count for the date of expiration.

Taking probiotics following any antibiotic treatment is recommended and often not discussed. Antibiotic use leaves the individual an open door to yeast and recurrent infections. Antibiotics can be life-saving in some situations, but they also kill the friendly bacteria. We must replace the good bacteria very quickly in order to maximize a rapid return to health and healing and/or a recurrence of illness. 

I usually tell my clients to take a probiotic opposite the time of their antibiotic. Bedtime seems to work best. Once the antibiotic treatment is finished, double up on the recommended dose for a week to replenish your colon then continue at the recommended dose indefinitely.

Catherine Stack is a doctor of naturopathy and a certified nurse midwife. Her practice is located at Journey II Health in Niagara Falls. Contact her at 298-8603 or at her website at

Catherine Stack is a doctor of naturopathy and a certified nurse midwife. Her practice is located at Journey II Health in Niagara Falls. Contact her at 298-8603 or at her website at