I woke up this morning thinking about probiotics…
A chain of emails yesterday between me and a good friend sparked my thoughts. She wanted to know my advice on her current GI issues. Our conversation reminded me of why I am totally committed to prebiotics, instead of probiotics.
First, for people who have great success with probiotics… I support the intervention 100% for them.
For me, prebiotics are much better than probiotics, and here’s why…
It all goes back to how I collected my microbiome!
My microbiome is the total combined genetic material that composes the microorganisms native to my gut. Surely you know I’m unique because of my own human DNA.
But do you know the microorganisms at home in me make me 100X as unique as I already am?
There are at least 100 trillion microbial cells in me,1 which is 10X the number of my human cells!2
My microbial cells contain 100X the number of genes that my human cells contain — so that makes me 100X as unique as I would be if I only had my human DNA!
An estimated 1,000 species (and even more sub-species) may or may not be present in my gut — some of my personal species and sub-species are good for me and some can harm me. Certain factors determined which species and sub-species became native to my gut. Other factors determine which of my native microorganisms flourish now. Factors include my route of birth (C-section or vaginal), breast or bottle fed (and for how long), diet, and antibiotic use.
The sobering truth is… by the time I was about 2-3 years old, my native microorganisms were permanently established — in other words, the neighborhood gangs in my gut will inhabit their niches throughout my lifetime. The composition of my microbial communities is difficult if not impossible to change. Happily, genes in the microbes can be changed (harmless organisms can become harmful versions and harmful organisms can become harmless versions)… but that’s a happy topic for another day!3
“So what,” you say? I think it’s a big “so what?”
Probiotics are pharmaceutical supplements based on loads of research. About 8 years ago, probiotics were estimated to be a $7 billion worldwide industry. I’ve read many of the research reports that lead corporations to formulate their supplements, and I appreciate the work that goes into this area of science. My hat is off to the men and women who have pushed scientific knowledge forward regarding the human gut ecosystem.
However, at this point in time, probiotic supplements still involve some guesswork. Decisions have to be made on what species/sub-species are most common and likely to help the most people. But I am not like anyone else…
I am me. Or at least we (my microorganisms and I) are we. LOL
If I take a probiotic supplement containing microorganisms that are not native in me, my natives will do their best to fight off the foreign invaders — it’s what they do! I may still experience benefit if I take enough of the supplement, but benefits will only last as long as I take the supplement.
Prebiotics (wheat bran cereal) are food for beneficial microorganisms. Instead of paying a lot of money for expensive pharmaceutical products, I use my food to feed my own personal beneficial microorganisms and help them thrive. Thus, my native beneficial microorganisms succeed in taking up all the real estate in my gut and crowd out the harmful ones.
True, I will have to continue with this therapy for the rest of my life.
But it’s cheap and easy, and 100% tailored to the needs of my unique inner ecosystem.
Also, eating a bowl of cereal doesn’t make me feel like a patient. I just feel like an informed person making healthy choices for me!
By the way, pharmaceutical companies are moving away from simple probiotics alone. Instead,pharmaceutically-prepared prebiotics are coming into vogue, as well as synbiotics (preparations that combine probitoics and prebiotics). For related information, please see my page entitled “Diet vs. Probiotics? Prebiotics? Synbiotics?” under the “Filling in the Blanks” tab. Or click HERE.
- Clemente, J.C., Unsell, L.K., Parfrey, L.W., and Knight, R. (2012) Impact of the Gut Microbiota on Human Health: An Integrative View. Cell 148:1259-1270.
- Turnbaugh, P.J., Ley, R.E., Hamady, M., Faser-Liggett, C.M., Knight, R., and Gordon, J.I. (2007) The Human MIcrobiome Project. Nature 449:804-810.
- Goldsmith, J.R., and Sartor, R.B. (2014) The Role of Diet on Intestinal Microbiota Metabolism: Downstream Impacts on Host Immune Function and Health, and Therapeutic Implications. J Gastroenterol 49:785-798.