Synbiotics Are The Buzzy Gut Supplements Blowing Up the Wellness World
Chances are, you’ve heard about probiotics and prebiotics and their crucial roles in promoting gut health … but what are synbiotics? The buzzy term has quietly risen in the ranks in the wellness world, and brands touting the product — think Seed and Ritual — have been embraced by celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Jessica Biel, and Karlie Kloss, but the supplement still remains somewhat of a mystery. To better define it, we must tackle the former two. Probiotics are live bacteria, like the kind found in yogurt and fermented foods (think sauerkraut and kombucha), that are good for you and your digestive system. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a bit different. They promote growth of microbes in the gut, but are found in other food sources high in fiber, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Now, this is where synbiotics come in.
“They are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics,” Naria Le Mire, registered dietician, tells TZR. “While prebiotics are found in fiber, probiotics are alive and found in fermented foods. I like to think of prebiotics as the ‘food’ for the probiotics.” According to a 2015 review by the Journal of Food Science and Technology, “A synbiotic product beneficially affects the host in improving the survival and implantation of live microbial dietary supplements in the gastrointestinal tract by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activating the metabolism of one or a limited number of health-promoting bacteria.” Dr. Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and founder of Alkamind, adds that probiotics and prebiotics work together — synergistically — in your digestive tract. Hence, the name.
How To Consume Synbiotics
While it may be tempting to take synbiotics as a two-in-one supplement to cover all your digestive bases, Le Mire says not so fast. “I would not necessarily recommend everyone to jump on a [single] synbiotic product before considering the ‘why,’” she explains. “First, everyone should have a daily dose of probiotics, as they are vital for a healthy digestive system — they can help you stay regular. However, some individuals may have unique goals or circumstances that may need a more specific type of probiotics.”
For example, if a client is experiencing bloating and constipation, Le Mire will recommend a specific type of probiotic, such as Bacillus coagulans. But if a client is having healthy bowel movements, she may recommend sticking with fermented foods — which have both prebiotics and probiotics — and consuming adequate fiber instead of investing money in supplements. “It really is a case by case basis,” she says.
However, Le Mire adds that, because most people do not meet their daily fiber goals — and may not have probiotics via foods on a day-to-day basis, a synbiotic supplement may be more feasible for them. “Therefore, for most individuals, a synbiotic blend may just be easier to do, at least at first,” she says.
Case in point, Cindy Kasindorf, certified nutritional health counselor and founder of Remedy Organics, says she takes synbiotics every day. “I would recommend taking both,” she says. “Probiotics may not actually make it all the way to the gut. The idea behind synbiotics is that adding prebiotics to a probiotic supplement can help ensure that the digestion-friendly microorganisms arrive in the gut alive and well.”
She adds that good gut health is vital to one’s overall well-being and recommends consuming both probiotic- and prebiotic-rich foods. “One option to consider are Remedy Organics’ wellness shakes and shots, which all contain prebiotics that help cultivate a healthy microbiome,” she says.
“Supplements are so important to take to keep our digestive systems strong, but you cannot supplement your way out of a bad diet,” Dr. Gioffre says. “Most of us stress-eat with sugar, grains, dairy, and too much protein, along with stress and toxins. These will throw off the delicate balance of healthy bacteria in our microbiome.” With that said, he recommends we focus on foods that will strengthen your gut from the inside out, such as leafy greens, healthy plant-based keto fats, green juices, and smoothies.
“These foods taste delicious, and are highly alkalizing [super fresh and better for the body], which is why we say strength eating is about eating acid-kicking foods,” Dr. Gioffre explains. “In addition, let's be sure to add in prebiotic foods to nourish our healthy probiotic army, such as asparagus, barley, chicory root, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichoke, and seaweed. If you are not eating these foods, then it would be a good idea to take a prebiotic in addition to a good-quality probiotic, which everyone should take on a daily basis, even children.”
As far as consuming synbiotics, Gioffre recommends doing so in both supplement and food form. “As far as probiotics are concerned, I prefer spore-based, which are temperature stable and, therefore, more convenient, over the conventional strains that typically need to be refrigerated,” he says. “Based on available research, look [at labels] for strains like Bacillus clausii, Bacillus subtilis, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Bacillus coagulans. In addition to the prebiotic foods I mentioned earlier, add probiotic-rich foods into your daily diet, such as kimchi, miso, pickles, sauerkraut, and coconut yogurt.”
Dr. Gioffre adds that supplements come into play when people are not getting enough synbiotics in their daily diets. “Research shows that most of us are dangerously deficient in prebiotics and probiotics, which is why supplementation has become a necessity and essential for your health as you age,” he says. “Without sufficient levels of probiotics, we become more susceptible to chronic inflammatory disease and illness.”
Why Gut Health Is So Important
“All disease begins in the gut,” said Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates some 2500 years ago. Dr. Gioffre agrees and adds, like a tree, the gut is the root system of the body. “And if the root system is loaded with toxins, inflammation, and stealth pathogens, you cannot be healthy,” he explains. “Therefore, it is critical to strength eat and take synbiotics on a daily basis. These pre- and probiotics [hybrids] improve digestion, absorb minerals and nutrients, produce vitamins, and rid the body of damaging toxins that cause leaky gut [when the gut lining is damaged and does not function optimally].”
“In addition to supporting overall digestive health and decreased levels of inflammation, daily probiotic consumption has been shown to down-regulate overactive immune responses in people who are dealing with autoimmune issues,” Dr. Gioffre says. “Probiotics have also been found to normalize, and help balance, total cholesterol and LDL levels. Lastly, an inverse relationship has been shown with the incidence of colon and breast cancer.”
Le Mire also emphasizes that both prebiotics and probiotics — together, synbiotics — can be vital for gut health. “Prebiotics allow, and encourage, a healthy digestive process, including regular and satisfying bowel movements,” she explains. “Remember, we tend to have about two to three meals a day (plus snacks!), and if you're not having regular bowel movements, everything is just ‘sitting’ inside your digestive system.” While prebiotics encourage movement of foods along the digestive system, probiotics are just as important, Le Mire says, as they can diversify an individual's gut microbiota. “This is protective against the ‘bad’ bacteria that can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.”
Plus, gut health is so important since the gut affects so many other parts of your body, from your skin to immune system to your mental health. There’s also a direct link between gut health and anxiety. “What you feed your microbiota — the types of bacteria that live in your gut — can improve the health of your microbiome,” Kasindorf says. “Your gut is connected to your immune system, so the healthier your gut is, the healthier you are [...] When your gut is in check, your mind and body will follow.”