Probiotics and Prebiotics

Digestive Microorganisms

What are probiotics? Probiotics are microorganisms (live bacteria) that have a beneficial effect on our health. The microorganisms most frequently considered probiotics are human strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. However, there are many different beneficial species (or strains) in the human digestive tract (also known as the gut or intestine). Probiotics may be taken as a powder or in capsule form; probiotics are also found in fermented foods, like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh.

What are prebiotics? Prebiotics are foods that contain a certain type of fiber that cannot be digested. Prebiotics promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. They actually serve as food for probiotics. Bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, oatmeal and legumes are all considered prebiotics.

Humans are dependent on certain gut microorganisms for optimal health. What do digestive microorganisms do?

  • They break down undigested food. This releases micronutrients (like vitamins K and B12) so we can then absorb and use them.
  • They defend the digestive tract from invasion by harmful microorganisms by competing with them.
  • They stimulate the immune system of the digestive tract. This maintains a healthy balance that aids in the defense against harmful pathogens. This healthy balance is also involved in maintaining oral tolerance (when the digestive tract knows that the food we eat is foreign to our bodies but is harmless and can be safely allowed to enter our body).

Research indicates that symptoms of a food allergy or sensitivity in infants (especially eczema, an allergic rash) may be reduced when:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers maintain a good bacterial balance in their digestive tract by taking certain strains of probiotics, and/or
  • Infants are given probiotics directly to impact their intestinal flora. (Especially if born by Cesarean as they miss out on exposure to their mother’s vaginal bacteria when they do not pass through the birth canal.)

Specific Probiotics Products

Therbiotic Infant Formula is a mixture of 10 different bacteria (10-strains) of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria that are normally found in a healthy breastfed infant’s intestines. Several of the bacteria are felt to help the immune system in the gut wall learn to tolerate foreign proteins – especially lactobacillus rhamnosus, which has been shown to decrease the allergic skin rash called eczema in infants and toddlers. Some mothers have told us they feel their baby has also experienced improvement in other food sensitivity symptoms, but this has not been scientifically proven. This probiotic preparation may also be a good choice if you or your baby have recently been on antibiotics and you wish to replenish the good bacteria in your digestive system which may have been decreased by the antibiotics. The infant probiotic comes in a powder, which can be mixed with breastmilk or formula, or transferred from a wet fingertip to the infant’s mouth before breastfeeding. This product is available at MilkWorks.

Gerber SOOTHE contains one strain of bacteria (Lactobacillus reuteri) that is found in the intestines of healthy breastfed babies, and is NOT present in the Therbiotic Infant Formula described above. This strain has been researched in a few studies that have shown less crying (“colic”), spitting up and constipation in both breastfed and formula fed infants. It is an oil-based product that is given via spoon. It is available at drug stores.

It is fine to give both the Therbiotic Infant Formula and the Gerber SOOTHE products at the same time.

MilkWorks also carries a probiotic formulated for adults. Therbiotic Complete contains high doses of seven strains of Lactobacilli, four strains of Bifidobacteria, and Streptococcus thermophiles. This probiotic may be taken by mothers who want to optimize their gut health. Several of the strains in this probiotic have been give to mothers in the last few months of pregnancy and appear to help decrease allergic eczema in a breastfed baby, especially if a mother continues to take them for several months into breastfeeding.

The “hypoallergenic” probiotics that we carry at MilkWorks contain no allergic ingredients and are not grown on any ingredients that are likely to cause a reaction in individuals who are highly allergic. They are dairy, corn, soy, gluten and casein free, and contain no sugar, starch, artificial sweeteners, flavors, salicylates or preservatives. The Gerber SOOTHE drops do contain sunflower oil, medium chain triglyceride oil, and silicon dioxide.

How to Handle and Store Therbiotic Probiotics:

These products are live cultures of friendly bacteria. Their effectiveness can be adversely impacted by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity. Refrigeration is recommended, but the capsules and infant powder are stable at room temperature for short periods of time. If you are traveling, carry only the amount that you will consume. You may keep them outside a refrigerator for a week or two at room temperature.

  • Store bottles in the refrigerator with the cap tightly closed whenever possible.
  • Avoid handling the capsules and putting them back in the bottle.
  • Use a dry spoon to measure the infant powder and do not dip your finger into the bottle.
  • Do not mix with hot food or beverages. High temperatures will kill the live microorganisms. Mix or take the probiotics with cold or slightly warm liquids or foods.