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What are Synbiotics?

Sometimes one letter makes a huge difference in meaning. Take the case of “symbiotic” and “synbiotic.” (Microsoft Word doesn’t even have the latter in its dictionary!).

According to Google Dictionary, the definition of the more familiar “symbiotic” means “involving interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association.” The example given here is “the fungi form symbiotic associations with the roots of plant species.” However, when Google Dictionary is met with a search for “symbiotic,” it reports “no definitions found for this word.”

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or it’s a typo—it’s simply quite a specific field term. Wikipedia, controlled by the masses, sums it up clearly: “Synbiotics refer to …dietary supplements combining probiotics and prebiotics in a form of synergism, hence, ‘synbiotics.’”

Researchers Glenn Gibson and Marcel Roberfroid are credited with coining the term. They describe synbiotics as “mixtures of probiotics and prebiotics that beneficially affect the host by improving the survival and implantation of live microbial dietary supplements in the gastrointestinal tract, by selectively stimulating the growth and/or by activating the metabolism of one or a limited number of health-promoting bacteria, thus improving host welfare.”

According to natural health expert, Josh Axe, MD, (“Dr. Axe”), “Synbiotics are categorized as either complementary synbiotics or synergistic synbiotics. Complementary synbiotics contain both prebiotics and probiotics that are independently selected for their beneficial effects on health. Conversely, synergistic synbiotics contain prebiotics that are chosen specifically to support the effects of the selected probiotics.”

Probiotics are microbial food supplements that are living organisms, and that thrive in the habitat of the human body (called the “host”). As you may be aware, adding probiotics to your daily health regimen will positively affect your well-being and immune resistance by improving the microbial balance in your microbiome (good bacteria versus bad in your microbiotic environment).

But, explains one study team, only taking probiotics may not provide the ultimate ecology for optimum health; the microbes are largely transient. You want them to implant and colonize—but how?

This is where the prebiotics come into play. Prebiotics are generally indigestible fibers that work to feed the probiotics to improve host health status. As an example of a workhorse pairing – fructooligosaccharides (FOS) stimulate well the proliferation of Lactobacillus paracasei, specifically L. paracasei CNCM 1-1572 (LP-DG ®).

Note that an effective synbiotic is one that has been researched to work – meaning the prebiotic “synergizes” appropriately with the probiotic with which it is matched. One study team aimed to see which prebiotics (in the form of carbohydrates such as galactooligosaccharides and fructooligosaccharides) helped specific probiotic strains to proliferate, and which ones had no effect. The findings, they write, were that “GOS, trans-GOS and sc-FOS show synbiotic potential for L. acidophilus strains DDS-1, LA-5 and LA-14, and B. lactis BB-12 and specifically scFOS with BI-07. In addition, chicory inulin benefits the growth of L. acidophilus strains DDS-1, LA-5 and LA-14. Agave inulin, arabinogalactan and maize dextrin do not increase probiotic growth in vitro.”

What Benefits Do Synbiotics Have?

As another example, one study looked at the synbiotic relationship between Lactobacillus plantarum LP-LDL® and the prebiotic galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and their effect in helping to reduce cholesterol. The goal, say the authors, was to “use reverse enzyme technology to synthesize galactooligosaccharides (GOS) that will selectively enhance the growth and cholesterol lowering activity of Lactobacillus plantarum LP-LDL®.”

The team selected L. plantarum LP-LDL® to target cholesterol reduction (based on previous research demonstrating the strain’s viability in this area). Using b-galactosidases expressed by the strain, the researchers were able to synthesize GOS that “works in true synergy with the parent strain, not only increasing its population but also impacting on the biological activity the probiotic was selected for. This is the first time that true synergy is demonstrated for a synbiotic in faecal culture,” they write.

Previous research has revealed that synbiotics may favorably alter the microbiota in the colon and reign in gut mucosa inflammation. Synbiotics may also induce remission of inflammatory bowel disorders, and reduce risk of developing travelers’ diarrhea.

One review summarized four key beneficial effects of synbiotics in humans:

  • Increased amounts of the genera Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and maintaining favorable balance of the intestinal microbiota;
  • Improved liver function in individuals with cirrhosis;
  • Improved immunomodulative abilities;
  • Prevention of bacterial translocation and reduced incidence of post-surgical infections.

It is known that chronic diseases are commonly associated with poor modern lifestyle habits that tend to cause immune system malfunction. And, says one research team, because diet is established as a modulator of host resistance to infectious and inflammatory processes, consuming synbiotics (fiber and probiotics) “seems to be a promising nutritional tool for immune system modulation in different populations.”

For example, in cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a growing condition among middle-aged and elderly adults from years of poor diet, one study found a synbiotic may have therapeutic potential. The double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of 52 individuals with NAFLD for 28 weeks found that “Synbiotic supplementation in addition to lifestyle modification is superior to lifestyle modification alone for the treatment of NAFLD.”


Researchers in one review write, “studies aimed at developing new concoctions of probiotics and prebiotics [ie, synbiotics] are vital to exploit further possibilities of enhancing nutritional and clinical health benefits.

Therefore, it’s guaranteed you will be seeing more information and articles touting the benefits of synbiotics – and for good reason. Probiotics and prebiotics individually provide wellness attributes (as shown in hundreds of human clinical studies). But when purposefully blended into one dosage form, for example, a micro-shot, the resulting synbiotic epitomizes the adage that the result is greater than the sum of its parts.


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