Probiotics refer to good bacteria that support overall health, particularly when a healthy balance of these beneficial bacteria are maintained.
They promote optimal digestive function, which helps ensure the body can properly absorb, break down, transport, and use essential vitamins as well as minerals that are consumed through food.
More specifically, probiotics increase the bioavailability of nutrients the body absorbs [1, 2]. Bioavailability refers to the concentration of a nutrient that actually makes it to the bloodstream after it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. Stomach acids tend to break down certain amounts of nutrients before they enter the bloodstream and this decreases their bioavailability.
Probiotics help protect nutrients such as iron and calcium from being quickly degraded by stomach acids [3-5]. This allows higher concentrations of nutrients that were initially consumed to reach the bloodstream where they can then be transported to areas of the body where they are most needed.
Probiotics also support the production and activity of white blood cells as well as powerful proteins that destroy harmful invaders, thereby heightening the immune system’s ability to prevent illnesses .
Prebiotics are fibers that act as the ideal food source for probiotics. In other words, prebiotic fiber enhances the health benefits of probiotics by providing them with nourishment .
In particular, prebiotics known as oligosaccharides (non-digestible carbohydrates) help boost the number of good bacteria in the gut while reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory proteins, thereby improving immune system function even after the prebiotic is briefly discontinued . A common type of prebiotic fiber is a plant-based form called fructooligosaccharides. .
Although prebiotics provide digestive support and help heighten mental function, traditional fiber-based "fermentable" prebiotics, such as larch arabinogalactan or inulin, may not be the ideal choice because of the gas they produce during the fermentation process, exacerbating the symptoms of individuals with SIBO or are on a low FODMAP diet. These types of prebiotics typically causes gas and bloating  which means it is not well-tolerated in individuals who are susceptible to digestive issues.
In conclusion, probiotics are good bacteria the body needs to thrive and prebiotics support the growth and development of probiotics by providing nourishment for them.
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Scholz-Ahrens KE, Ade P, Marten B, Weber P, Timm W, Açil Y, Glüer CC, Schrezenmeir J. Prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics affect mineral absorption, bone mineral content, and bone structure. J Nutr 2007, 137(Suppl 2):838S-46S.
Narva M, Nevala R, Poussa T, Korpela R. The effect of Lactobacillus helveticus fermented milk on acute changes in calcium metabolism in postmenopausal women. Eur J Nutr 2004, 43:61-68.
Bering S, Suchdev S, Sjøltov L, Berggren A, Tetens I, Bukhave K. A lactic acid-fermented oat gruel increases non-haem iron absorption from a phytate-rich meal in healthy women of childbearing age. Br J Nutr 2006, 96:80-85.
Kukkonen K, Savilahti E, Haahtela T, et al. Probiotics and prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides in the prevention of allergic diseases: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007, 119(1):192-198.
Solis B, Nova E, Gómez S, et al. The effect of fermented milk on interferon production in malnourished children and in anorexia nervosa patients undergoing nutritional care. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002, 56 (Suppl 4):S27-S33.
Roberfroid M, Gibson GR, Hoyles L, et al. Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits. Br J Nutr. 2010, 104(Suppl 2):S1-S63.
Schiffrin EJ, Thomas DR, Kumar VB, et al. Systemic inflammatory markers in older persons: the effect of oral nutritional supplementation with prebiotics. J Nutr Health Aging. 2007, 11(6):475-479.
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