4 Common Misconceptions With Probiotics and Prebiotics for Special Needs

When looking around at grocery stores or online, it seems that probiotics are one of the “buzz” topics in nutrition today. Probiotics can be advertised in beverages, cereals, yogurt, granola, or even candy! Many advertisements seem to show that probiotics are good for everyone, but is there really any truth to that? Diving deeper into what probiotics and prebiotics are can help shine light on the use of probiotics and prebiotics for special needs and lead to better knowledge if this the right choice for an individual!

What Are Probiotics and Where Are They Found?

4 Common Misconceptions With Probiotics and Prebiotics for Special NeedsProbiotics are live microbes or microorganisms, such as yeasts or bacteria, that an individual can consume to boost the population of healthy, beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Probiotics are found naturally in some foods or exist in certain medical beverages, medical foods, tablets, or capsules. Further, the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations define probiotics to be live microorganisms that can lead to health benefits when taken in specific amounts.

There are many sources of probiotics today, especially with the recent peak in popularity of probiotics. They are commonly found in oral supplements such as pills, capsules, or beverages, though they can be found in food sources as well. Some of these include dairy sources, such as yogurt with live active cultures, aged cheeses, or kefir. However, non-dairy options can include kimchi, miso, tempeh, or even sauerkraut. This can provide many options for families to find good sources of probiotics in the diet to use probiotics and prebiotics for special needs individuals.

What are Prebiotics and Where are They Found?

Prebiotics are a group of certain vegetables and plant foods that are short chain carbohydrates. They contain a healthy group of fibers that work to give probiotics the nutrition they need by working together in symbiosis to assist with immunity, gut health, reducing symptoms of irritable bowel disease, improving bone health, helping with lipid metabolism, or even reducing the risk of some cancers.

Prebiotics can be found in foods such as asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, tomatoes, artichokes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and bananas to name a few. These high fiber fruits and vegetables can provide the necessary nutrients for probiotics as well as improve the health of the gut microbiota. Like with any fiber rich foods, having adequate fluid intake and drinking plenty of water during the day can help to promote bowel regularity. Having sufficient prebiotics in the diet by eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can help to improve gastrointestinal health when working to add probiotics and prebiotics for special needs individuals.

Common Misconceptions about Probiotics

As probiotics and prebiotics for special needs continue to be a popular nutrition supplementation, it is important to identify misconceptions that can prevent these from being as effective as possible or being used to treat conditions that probiotics are not suitable for. Four common misconceptions are listed below:

  1. Probiotics can help with the common cold, eczema, or seasonal allergies.
    1. FALSE. Probiotics can work to alleviate some intestinal symptoms or reduce the impact of a UTI, however, probiotics are not a magic “cure-all” for any ailment. It is best to find uses for probiotics that are based in research studies in order to ensure that your symptoms can be alleviated with probiotics! If you are unsure, a healthcare provider can help to point you to resources and answer your questions on the most appropriate probiotics and prebiotics for special needs.
  2. All probiotic strains are equally as effective, so I can buy any brand for my symptoms.
    1. FALSE. The FDA currently does not regulate dietary supplements marketed as probiotics, so not all brands are equal. When using probiotics and prebiotics for special needs, it is best to look to trusted manufacturers to find a probiotic that has enough colony forming units (CFUs) that are proven effective, as based in clinical trials and science-based research.
  3. All food sources of probiotics will alleviate my symptoms, and I should turn to these natural solutions first.
    1. FALSE. Though food sources can be a great way to get probiotics, not all conditions can have symptoms improved by probiotic-rich foods alone, as they may not have the right strain or enough quantity of colony forming units to be effective. In the case of more severe gastrointestinal symptoms, it may be best to use a probiotic supplement. Check with your doctor before starting any new dietary supplements to make sure they are the best probiotics and prebiotics for special needs for you!
  4. The health claims on the packaging of my probiotics containing food/supplement are always regulated and true.
    1. FALSE. Both quality and quantity are important, and therapeutic uses should be based on scientific research, not simply on health claims. It is important to note that health claims are allowed in marketing, as long as a company does not say they may “cure,” “prevent,” or “treat” a condition. Going back to evidence-based research is the best way to know which probiotics and prebiotics for special needs can work to help with your symptoms.

Brands Recommended

When looking at probiotics and prebiotics for special needs, different strains are found with different brands, each showing improvement in different ways based on the gastrointestinal symptoms an individual may be experiencing. Below are strains that are based in research that can be purchased from trusted manufacturers to help with alleviating symptoms:

  • Align (1 capsule daily)
    • The strain Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 is found in this supplement and can help with common discomforts found with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as cramping, bloating, or stool frequency.
  • Bio K+ (beverage or capsule)
    • The Lactobacillus acidophilus CL 1285 and L casei strains found in this beverage or capsule contain probiotics that can help to reduce symptoms of antibiotic associated diarrhea.
  • Culturelle (1-2 capsules daily)
    • The strain L rhamnosus GG is contained in this capsule and is proven to reduce severity and duration of acute infectious diarrhea as well as reduce antibiotic associated diarrhea in children and adults.
  • Florastor (1-2 capsules or powdered packets daily)
    • Saccharomyces boulardii is found in this product which has been proven to reduce antibiotic associated diarrhea as well as traveler’s diarrhea for children or adults experiencing adverse reactions.
  • Mutaflor (2 capsules daily)
    • The probiotic E coli Nissle 1917 is a specific strain of probiotics that research has found reduces the inflammation for some individuals with ulcerative colitis.
  • VSL #3 (capsules or powder packets, variable amounts)
    • This supplement has a combination of various probiotic strains including Lactobacillus paracasei, L plantarum, L acidophilus, L delbrueckii Bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium longum, B breve, B infantis, and Streptococcus thermophilus. These working together have been proven to help with management of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or pouchitis.

Who Should Take These?

If you have any of the conditions or symptoms listed above, probiotics and prebiotics for special needs may be a helpful supplement to achieve optimal gastrointestinal health. Before starting any new supplements, make sure to check with your doctor that probiotics can fit into your lifestyle and be taken without any adverse effects. As research shows the importance of optimal gut health for overall health status, it is important to ensure that any symptoms or conditions you may be experiencing are treated safely and effectively. Though there is much research to support the use of probiotics in the diet, not every person will have the same benefit. Thus, a physician can help to guide you to know if probiotics and prebiotics for special needs will be a good choice for you.

In Conclusion

When looking at probiotics and prebiotics for special needs, making sure to have adequate intake of the best form of probiotics for any gastrointestinal concerns you may have and taking them along with fresh fruits, vegetables, and adequate water can provide the best results. Though many food companies will make claims about probiotics and prebiotics on food labels, finding strains that have scientific research and provide enough colony forming units is important in order to show improvement with any gastrointestinal symptoms you may have. Make sure to check with your physician or contact us today to be connected with a dietitian with Special Strong if you have questions about probiotics and prebiotics for special needs!


Align Probiotics

Bio K+ Probiotics

Culturelle Probiotics

Florastor Probiotics

Mutaflor Probiotics

VSL #3 Probiotics


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