What Are Prebiotics?
- Prebiotics: nutrients we consume that support the health of our gut microbes
- Probiotics: bacteria that provide a known health benefit to the host
- Synbiotics: a combination of pre- and probiotics that work together to provide a health benefit to their host
- Postbiotics: bioactive compounds produced by bacteria that provide a health benefit — the products of probiotics consuming prebiotics
Common Questions & Answers
What Are the Potential Benefits of Prebiotics?
What Foods Contain Prebiotics?
The 411 on Probiotic Supplements and How to Choose a Quality Product
Prebiotic supplements are also available over the counter in drug stores and supermarkets across the United States. You might be tempted to try one out, especially if you’re feeling constipated. Just be aware that manufacturers can put a product on the market without FDA approval, and only if safety concerns arise will the FDA intervene. And the efficacy of supplements — whether they do what they claim — is not regulated at all. That said, there are some steps you can take to make sure you’re getting a quality product. Karen Hecht, PhD, scientific affairs manager at AstaReal in Burlington, New Jersey, suggests looking at a few things:
- “If your product has a branded ingredient … you have something to follow up on,” Dr. Hecht said. If a supplement has a branded ingredient, with a trademark or registered trademark symbol on the label, you can look at the product’s website to see what types of independent testing have been done to prove that ingredient’s efficacy. You can also search the National Institutes of Health PubMed to see what studies have been done publicly about the product’s efficacy, including dose size.
- Look for products that have a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) or United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) certification seal on the label. The FDA issues guidance on current good manufacturing practices.
- While the United States does not regulate supplements’ efficacy, Canada and Europe do. You can look up a product or an ingredient on Health Canada’s Licensed Natural Health Products Database to see if it has been shown to do what the product claims.“Health Canada does review and approve health claims,” Hecht said. “They don’t let supplements put a health claim on the bottle unless the science has been reviewed and approved by Health Canada first, and they approve the wording.” Note that you can only look up brands or ingredients, not the word “prebiotic.”
One possible drawback to supplements is that they can be expensive. “If you’re specifically looking to rebalance the bacteria in your gut, you get more bang for your buck through whole foods,” Petitpain says. “Consumers should aim to consume the recommended number of fruits, veggies, and whole grains before adding supplements.”
Do Prebiotics Have Any Potential Health Risks?
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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- Guidance for Industry on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Products and Their Regulation by the Food and Drug Administration [PDF]. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.?December 2006.
- Hutkins RW, Krumbeck JA, Bindels LB, et al. Prebiotics: Why Definitions Matter. Current Opinion in Biotechnology. February 2016.
- Gharib S. By the Way, Doctor: Will a Fiber Supplement Interfere With My Medications? Harvard Health Publishing. August 23, 2019.
- Facts About the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. June 1, 2021.
- Licensed Natural Health Products Database (LNHPD). Government of Canada. April 1, 2019.
- Carlson JL, Erickson JM, Lloyd BB, Slavin JL. Health Effects and Sources of Prebiotic Dietary Fiber. Current Developments in Nutrition. March 2018.