You’ve no doubt heard the term “biotics” used quite a bit in advertising lately, as manufacturers tout the health benefits of various versions. Most of these ads are for prebiotic and probiotic products, but there are other kinds of biotics as well. Here’s some information that will answer the question, “What are biotics?” so that you have more of an idea of what you’re seeing on television.
The term “biotic” simply refers to various living things that are not only in the environment, but in our bodies as well. There are several types, and all of them play a role in creating an ecosystem.
When it comes to the human body, biotics are bacteria. There are good bacteria and bad ones, and the bad ones get all the press, because they can cause so many potentially devastating health problems. But the beneficial bacteria are just as important, because they help to keep the harmful ones in check.
Different Types of Biotics
When you ask, “What are biotics?” the depth of the answer may be surprising. These are just some of the biotics – many of which you’ve heard of, but others that don’t come to mind as quickly.
- Antibiotics – These are, as the name implies, substances that are “anti-biotic,” meaning they exist to kill biotic materials, namely bacteria. Just about everyone has taken an antibiotic at one time or another to kill some type of internal bug, and these medications have saved countless lives. But they not only kill harmful bacteria, they kill good ones as well. So, if you take them, you should seriously consider ways to replenish your supply of beneficial bacteria.
- Prebiotics – There are certain foods that contain fibers the body can’t digest. These fibers are known as “prebiotics,” because they provide food for the bacteria within the digestive tract. We can’t digest those fibers, but our bacteria can.
- Probiotics – Probiotics are substances designed to increase the number of good bacteria in the body. They are found in certain types of food, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and many others, but they are also available in supplement form. These include capsules, powders, and drinks.
- Macrobiotics – You’ve obviously heard of the first three entries on this list, but this one might leave you scratching your head a bit. Many people follow a macrobiotic diet that emphasizes locally grown vegetables, raw fruits, beans, and whole grains.
- Synbiotics – These are simply products that contain prebiotics as well as probiotics.
Differentiating Between Prebiotics and Probiotics
Since prebiotics and probiotics have gained so much notoriety in recent years, let’s focus on the differences between the two as well as some of the benefits they are purported to provide.
Again, prebiotics are the main fuel source for bacteria. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not actually living things. Rather, they stimulate probiotics, so they can do their thing in the digestive system. Beneficial bacteria are constantly battling with harmful ones, and need prebiotics so they can continue to fight. Research indicates that not only do prebiotics help good bacteria thrive, they also benefit overall health.1
Probiotics tend to be touted more for their health benefits (more on these in a bit), but studies show that prebiotics can provide substantial benefits as well. For example, research shows they can boost the immune system, support healthy metabolism, and also help the body properly absorb nutrients and utilize vitamins.2 They have also been shown to help ensure the body has normal levels of sugar in the blood.3
But prebiotics affect everyone in a different fashion. One of the main factors to consider if you choose to take a prebiotic supplement is your overall intestinal health. Research indicates that if you have irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, taking prebiotics in high doses may exacerbate your symptoms.4 You need to check with your doctor to make sure your digestive tract will be able to handle a prebiotic.
Probiotics, on the other hand, consist of living microorganisms. They are intended to help achieve a balance between good and bad bacteria in the “gut,” or the gastrointestinal tract. A lot of people have an imbalance due to a combination of factors, such as stress, illness, processed foods, and even indoor and outdoor pollutants. Serious health issues can result when harmful bacteria outnumber the beneficial ones.
There has been a great deal of study devoted to just how beneficial probiotics can be for the body. They seem to not only support good digestive health, but can also have a positive impact for people of all ages, including newborns.5 Probiotics are thought to help reduce inflammation that can lead to intestinal issues, and they have even been associated with improved oral health.6 Many people who take antibiotics are also given probiotics to help replace beneficial bacteria.
Research also suggests that probiotics can help inhibit certain mechanisms within the body that can increase our sensitivity to allergens such as dust and different types of pollen.7 They can also help make sure we have regular bowel movements.8
How Do You Get More Prebiotics and Probiotics in Your System?
There are a lot of natural sources of both prebiotics and probiotics, and you can easily find many of them on the shelves of your local grocery store. For example, prebiotics are found in foods such as beans, garlic, and oats, while you can find an ample supply of probiotics in pickled vegetables, as well as the aforementioned sauerkraut and yogurt. It’s very important, however, that you make sure any food item you’re purchasing for its probiotic benefits hasn’t been pasteurized. The reason is that pasteurization kills both good and bad bacteria, much like antibiotics.
If you want to go the easy route and still ensure you get enough prebiotics and probiotics, you can always purchase supplements. Capsules are extremely popular, but do a little research and make sure the ones you buy are of the highest quality. If they’re not, they may not survive the passage through your stomach to your intestines. Lower quality capsules dissolve in stomach acid, making it impossible for beneficial bacteria to get where they need to go.
Hopefully we’ve answered the question, “What are biotics?” Again, though, if you choose to take a prebiotic or probiotic supplement, talk to your doctor first to make sure you can do so safely.