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Prebiotic and probiotic supplements: Do you need them?


Prebiotic and probiotic supplements: Do you need them?

Have you ever consider taking a prebiotic or a probiotic supplement to improve your digestive health?
Before heading to the vitamin aisle at the store, it’s a good idea to learn a little bit more about how your digestive system functions, says Erica Kouns, a certified family nurse practitioner at Tidelands Health Gastroenterology at Murrells Inlet.
The small bowel plays an important role in the digestion of our foods. The small bowel is the primary location of our microbiome, a complex system of microorganisms that aid in the digestion of our food.

Prebiotics vs. probiotics

Probiotics increase the amount of naturally occurring helpful microorganisms in the digestive tract. Prebiotics are a way to help nourish the health of the microbiome.

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Both prebiotics and probiotics can be purchased as over-the-counter supplements, typically in pill or powder form. But do most people need to take them? Not necessarily, says Kouns.
“We all need to support the health of our microbiome to benefit from good gut health, improved immunity, better skin and more,” she says. “The best strategy for improving the health of your microbiome is found in what kind of foods you eat.”

Healthy foods

For prebiotic-rich food, consider adding yogurt, Keefer, sauerkraut, kombucha and other fermented foods to your diet. To improve the number of good, healthy microorganisms in the small bowel, make sure you are eating vegetables and fruit at every meal. Our microbiome thrives when we have a variety of naturally occurring plant foods in our diet.
It is important to minimize the amounts of high sugar and heavily processed foods that we consume. When people eat too much sugar or too much highly refined starch, including cereals, crackers and pasta, they are at risk of creating an imbalance in their microbiome. Oftentimes, this shows up in the form of gas, bloating and irregularity of bowel movements.

What to look for

While purchasing prebiotic and probiotic supplements can be helpful for some people, it is important to understand that no supplement will counteract a diet high in sugar and highly refined, processed foods.

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f you would like to try a supplement, Kouns recommends starting with a prebiotic fiber powder called Benefiber or its generic equivalent. Benefiber is gentle and helps reduce gas and bloating because it is a prebiotic and natural nourishes the good, healthy bacteria that exist in the small bowel.
And, if you really want to try a probiotic supplement, it’s not likely to be harmful for you. But the process of finding the right probiotic for you may involve trial and error, which can be expensive. The best probiotic will vary from person to person because all microbiomes are unique. When selecting a probiotic, look for a high-quality supplement from a reputable company.
If a person notices improvement in gastrointestinal condition within the first 30 to 60 days of taking a probiotic, that’s a good indication the probiotic is right for the individual. If no change is noted after the first month or two, Kouns would not recommend continuing to invest in the supplement.

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