Halal Consumer - Issue 28 - page 12

be proactive about maintaining gut health when someone is at
risk of disrupting his or her normal GI balance.”
The Other “Biotics”
You may have heard these words that sound like probiotics
before:
antibiotics
and
prebiotics
. Both of these terms interact
with probiotics in different ways.
Antibiotics are powerful prescriptive medicines that fight bacte-
rial infections. They work to either kill or stop further growth of
dangerous bacteria in your system. When it comes to antibiot-
ics and probiotics, Dr. Chishty explains, “Antibiotics aim to kill
the pathogenic bacteria causing an illness or infection, but since
they don’t differentiate against bacteria they also tend to kill off
the good bacteria along with the bad.” She continues, “Probiotics
can help restore and regulate the natural flora.”
Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food ingredients that pro-
mote the growth of good bacteria in your GI tract. Prebiotics
can be found in bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus,
artichokes, soybeans, and whole-wheat foods. Prebiotics and
probiotics work together synergistically. Jointly they are
referred to as
synbiotics
. You can think of prebiotics as food for
probiotics. Enjoying synbiotic dishes is easy. It’s as simple as
adding sliced bananas to yogurt!
Emerging Research
Since the probiotic concept was first introduced in 1908, the
scientific community has been working to define probiotics and
their uses. Most research on the topic, however, has been con-
ducted within the past decade.
Improving, restoring, and maintaining GI health is well estab-
lished concerning probiotics. Additional research shows that
there are immunological benefits from probiotics, including
reducing eczema. Probiotics can also improve lactose malabsorp-
tion by improving digestion and reducing symptoms of lactose
intolerance. The use of synbiotics has been shown to reduce the
risk of colon cancer.
Much of the research is applicable to infants and children, as
their GI flora is relatively new and more easily manipulated.
In societies with strict hygiene, infants are exposed to fewer
bacteria. As a result, they are more sensitive to illnesses and
allergies as adults. Introducing probiotics through formulas such
as Similac Advance STEP 2 GOS w/Probiotics can influence
their GI flora and build stronger immune systems. Consult your
infant/child’s pediatrician before supplementing your infant/
child with probiotics.
The use of probiotics is more effective when “strain specific.”
This means that a bacterium may be useless if it is the correct
species but not the same strain as what your GI tract needs
for balance. Although all people harbor a GI flora, not all are
exactly the same as one another. Further research on probiotics
is necessary before establishing additional benefits, further uses,
and insight on strain specificity.
Are There Risks?
Though probiotics generally pose no harm, there are some risks
to individuals. For those allergic to yeast, it is important to note
that some probiotic mixtures contain yeast cultures. There are
potential interactions with other medications, making it neces-
sary to mention probiotic supplement use to your doctor. There
is also the possibility for an increase in antibiotic-resistance.
It is important to read labels and know what you are putting into
your body. Tahira Randhawa, MPH, a resident of Burlington,
New Jersey, with a Master’s in Public Health, has a strong pas-
sion for health literacy and urges consumers to read food and
supplement labels. The Certified Health Education Specialist
(CHES) states, “It’s common knowledge that probiotics help
with digestion, but what specific bacteria are you putting into
your system? Read the label, find the exact names, and then
do the research. You can avoid any possible risks by taking
an active role in understanding labels.” Randhawa suggests
interested readers visit
for information on
specific probiotics noted on food labels. When purchasing at
your local pharmacy, Dr. Chishty adds that, when in doubt,
“using standardized supplements labeled ‘USP [United States
Pharmacopeia] verified’ tend to be a safer choice.”
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet ensures a balanced GI
flora as well. Keep your body on track by including foods rich
in probiotics. You can find them in a variety of foods you most
likely already enjoy. Remember to read labels and look for prod-
ucts that include “active” or “live” cultures. Keep in mind that
probiotic supplements are most useful to those who are at risk
of disrupting, or already have disrupted, the good bacteria in
their GI tracts. Consult your physician if you are unsure about
whether a probiotic supplement is right for you.
Zaira Ahmad
is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist from Somerset, New
Jersey. She also has her Master’s in Nutrition & Food Science with experi-
ence in clinical dietetics, nutrition education, and nutrition counseling.
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Spring 2014
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