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Probiotics & Prebiotics

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August 21, 2019

Announcer: Farm And Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about probiotics and prebiotics. Hello. I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm And Family. Today, we're speaking with Heidi Foster, Mississippi State University dietetic intern. Heidi, there's so much buzz going around concerning healthy gut bacteria and so many new products containing probiotics. Can you start us off by explaining what prebiotics and probiotics exactly are?

Heidi Foster: Sure. This is one of my favorite topics. There are billions of microorganisms living on and within our bodies at all times. We call this our microbiota. Probiotics, there's some specific strains of these microorganisms which we have determined are beneficial to our health. Some of these microbes are called lactobacillus or bifidobacterium. You may have seen them on yogurt labels. Prebiotics are basically food for the probiotics. They are soluble fibers, which can be found in foods such as bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, onions, and leeks.

Amy Myers: Why do you think this has become an area of interest lately? I know that when I go shopping, I see the word probiotic on drinks, granola bars, and even gummies. Why should I care whether or not my food contains probiotics?

Heidi Foster: They can have a huge impact on your health. Probiotics, they're healthy bacteria that may help keep your digestive tract and immune system more efficient. They may even help you digest or absorb minerals better and may produce vitamins like vitamin K in your digestive tract. One of the reasons why probiotics may be beneficial to the immune system is that they make out compete potentially pathogenic bacteria. If the space and resources in your digestive tract are being utilized by probiotics, then there are no resources available for potentially harmful bacteria to use. For this reason, it is also important to make sure that you are ingesting healthy bacteria after you take antibiotics. When you take antibiotics, you are not just killing bacteria that can be harmful to you. You are also killing good bacteria. It's important to repopulate your digestive system with healthy bacteria, so you don't wind up with another infection.

An extreme example of this is seen in hospitalized patients with Clostridium difficile. Maybe you've heard of C. diff. It is a bacterial infection that occurs when someone goes on an extremely strong antibiotic, which kills off their healthy microbiota. The person was likely host to C. diff spores or was exposed to them in the hospital, which can withstand the antibiotic, and when the other bacteria was killed off, it was given room to thrive. C. diff is not fun. When it is allowed to grow, it creates a pseudo-membrane within the intestines, preventing nutrients and liquids from being absorbed, which causes severe diarrhea. The best way to treat this infection is with a fecal transplant, as seen in Grey's Anatomy, season five, episode nine, when I hypochondriac takes antibiotics for a nonexistent staph infection and develops intractable diarrhea. She then needs a fecal transplant from her husband. So, moral of the story, not all bacteria is bad.

Amy Myers: How do you suggest we consume probiotics?

Heidi Foster: You can get probiotics from food sources such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, or kombucha. You can make these on your own, but it can be dangerous if you are not careful and allow contamination to occur. You can also get probiotic supplements from many places, such as CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Kroger.

Amy Myers: If there are so many options, how do I know which ones to choose?

Heidi Foster: When looking to purchase supplements, pay attention to the CFU count, the expiration dates, and the diversity of strains. You want to pick a probiotic supplement with the highest CFU count and the largest diversity of strains that is far before its expiration date.

Amy Myers: Is this safe for the general population?

Heidi Foster: There are very few side effects within the general population. At first, one may experience abdominal discomfort, possibly with gas or diarrhea. However, this normally subsides when the body adjust to the probiotic. However, in immunocompromised populations, such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, or AIDS patients, taking probiotics or probiotic foods might not be the best idea. There have been, on occasion, more substantial issues associated with probiotic use, but they are rare and only really occur in immunocompromised people, unless you brewed kombucha at home that was contaminated and you ingested some funky stuff by accident.

Amy Myers: Okay. Well, maybe I'll pick up some probiotic chocolate on my way home. Today, we've been speaking with Heidi Foster, dietetic intern. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm And Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm And Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion

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