What Are Synbiotics? Benefits, Risk Factors, and Supplementation

Synbiotics and Gut Health: What You Need to Know 

Our gastrointestinal tract is home to an incredible system of beneficial bacteria (and other microbes) that comprise the human gut microbiome. From the moment we are born, our gut microbiome begins to diversify to support our digestion, boost our immunity, and protect us from harmful bacteria. 

Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is not only beneficial throughout the lifespan but also crucial to our overall well-being. That’s where synbiotics come into play!

Read on to discover what a synbiotic is, the importance of synbiotics, where we can find them, and how we can supplement these "friendly" microbes to help strengthen our gut health.

What Are Synbiotics

Synbiotics are health-promoting mixtures of prebiotics and probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms in the gut that play an important role in our digestion, cognitive functioning, mood, immunity, and much more. On the other hand, prebiotics are indigestible fibers that feed those microorganisms, helping them thrive and survive in a healthy microbiome [1]. 

Synbiotics can be found in supplements and certain foods such as yogurt, whole grains, and sauerkraut. Together, this mixture of prebiotics and probiotics can provide a wide range of health benefits – not only for our gastrointestinal tract, but also for metabolism, immune function, and mental well-being. 

Health Benefits of Synbiotics

The mixture of prebiotics and probiotics found in synbiotics confers a strong synergistic effect for favorably modulating the gut microbiome. Here are some of the many health benefits of synbiotics. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Relief 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (i.e. Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) is characterized by an inflammatory response within the gastrointestinal tract. IBD can cause a range of serious and uncomfortable symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite [2]. 

Synbiotics are shown to display beneficial effects on the gut lining by reducing inflammation and helping to relieve many of the symptoms associated with IBD. Scientists are now exploring the implantation of healthy gut bacteria within the colon to promote the growth of certain probiotic strains that may potentially resolve IBD symptoms [3].  

Boosting Immune Function

Our immune system is intimately connected to our microbiome. In fact, nearly 80% of our body’s immune cells are located in the digestive tract. As such, diversifying our microbiome by increasing the amount of good bacteria is shown to enhance immune responses and minimize inflammation [4].

One study looking at the relationship between gut bacteria and infection found that women who supplemented probiotics on a regular basis were 50% less likely to get a urinary tract infection compared to women who did not supplement whatsoever [5]

Supporting Weight loss 

Research has discovered that many of our gut microbes may be determining factors in the development of obesity. For this reason, evidence suggests that a combination of synbiotic supplementation and healthy lifestyle habits (i.e. healthy dieting and regular physical activity) can lead to significant weight loss [6, 7]. 

Reducing Lactose Intolerance 

Individuals with lactose intolerance cannot fully digest the sugar in milk, causing them to experience gas, bloating, or diarrhea after eating or drinking dairy. Although lactose intolerance is generally harmless, symptoms can be incredibly uncomfortable and may persist for several hours. 

Synbiotics display positive effects on digestion and enzymatic activity, which may help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance [8]. 

Improving Mental Health

Mental health conditions are a common problem across all age groups. Thanks to the gut-brain axis, which is a network of bidirectional pathways allowing the brain and gut to communicate with one another, scientists are now looking into the use of intestinal microbes to improve cognition and protect mental health [9]. 

According to a recent study, certain types of probiotic bacteria including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been shown to improve memory and potentially relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder [10]

Risk Factors of Synbiotics 

Both prebiotic and probiotic supplements are shown to display some minor side effects when taken in high quantities. 

Since prebiotics are fermented in the gut, they may cause digestive discomfort when consumed in high doses. This is because prebiotic foods are high in fiber and tends to absorb more water from the colon. As a result, synbiotics can cause mild symptoms of dehydration and constipation when taken at high doses. 

To help improve tolerance of synbiotics, it’s best to drink plenty of water and begin supplementation at a low dose before gradually increasing quantities. 

How to Supplement Synbiotics

As mentioned earlier, supplementing a combination of prebiotics and probiotics can offer several health benefits. The question is, what is the best way to supplement?

The first option is to eat a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics. Some of the best prebiotic foods include onions, oats, garlic, green bananas, asparagus, and most other high-fiber foods. Meanwhile, probiotic bacteria can be found in a selection of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or kombucha [11]. 

For the most beneficial effects, you can even combine many of these prebiotic and probiotic foods to create delicious meals such as a veggie and kimchi stirfry or overnight oats topped with kefir.

The second option is to take synbiotic supplements. Keep in mind that the highest-quality products are those that contain active bacteria. You can find live microbial dietary supplements by looking for products with a high colony-forming unit (CFU) count. Generally speaking, most synbiotic supplements include 500-1,500 milligrams per serving of prebiotics and 1-10 billion CFU of probiotics.

The Bottom Line on Synbiotics for Gut Health

Synbiotics serve a range of health benefits by helping to decrease inflammation in the gut, boost immune function, promote weight loss, reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance, and improve mental health.

You can find synbiotics in certain high-fiber and fermented foods as well as in supplement form. The Transparent Labs Gut Health Essentials Stack provides a complete synbiotic combination that makes it a breeze to stay on top of your gastrointestinal balance, which can have significant benefits for virtually all aspects of longevity and athletic performance.

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