It’s a word that we hear thrown around on a daily basis – “biotic”. When we’re sick were sent to the pharmacy for antibiotics. To remain healthy we’re told to pop supplements or eat loads of yogurt to get enough probiotics.
Then there’s something called abiotics, we’re meant to now be focussing on prebiotics and suddenly synbiotics has made an appearance. Confused yet?
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- Biotics and Abiotics
Biotics and Abiotics
Let’s start at the beginning. Quite simply, what is a biotic? The word biotic derives from the Greek word biotikos, meaning “pertaining to life” and it essentially refers to the biological community of living organisms on our planet – plants and animals of all sizes as well as that curious little thing we call bacteria.
On the flip side, there’s what is known as the “abiotic” community – such as sunlight, temperature, water, and soil chemistry. All the non-living factors that the living colonies need to survive.
Put all of these things together and we have ourselves an “ecosystem”. What sustains this ecosystem is the constant interchange of matter between the biotic and the abiotic. As humans, we are biotic and we’re made up of many millions of even smaller biotics.
These days any good doctor prescribing an antibiotic should simultaneously be advising you to buy a jar of probiotics. Why? Because as those antibiotics go around killing your bad biotics they often have to wipe out some good biotics (good bacteria) in the process.
Science has shown that the human gut harbors many diverse bacteria (and other microbes) that play a hugely important role in the well-being of their host.2 Though we often grow up viewing bacteria as a bad thing – endlessly instructed to “wash our hands” to get rid of the bacteria – there’s plenty of good bacteria working hard to keep our guts healthy.
But it’s not just antibiotics killing off the “good guys”. Stress, illness and bad dietary habits can all wreak havoc on those good biotics.3
Hippocrates once said that “All disease begins in the gut”, centuries before any technology could back him up. But science is continuing to prove his theory showing that many and varied diseases – such as the flu, colon cancer, autoimmune conditions (including allergies), obesity and even behavioral issues (like autism) often directly relate to imbalances of the microorganisms living in our guts.4 That sounds like a pretty good enough argument for taking probiotics!
The World Health Organization’s definition of a probiotic is: “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” 5 and sure, the concept of swallowing a capsule full of “live organisms” may sound a little freaky. However, that’s exactly what you’re consuming when you eat a tub of yogurt. Try to think of those millions of little biotics as knights in shining armor heading into your gut with swords raised ready to invade and evict the enemy.
If you’re not a fan of taking pills, the good news is that you can also find good probiotic sources within natural yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, kefir-style drinks, sourdough bread, and kombucha.
When considering the question of, “What are Prebiotics?” Prebiotics are plant fibers that are not only found in several different types of foods, but also in supplements.
Prebiotics also come from types of carbs (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest. But the beneficial bacteria in your gut like to eat this fiber which in turn promotes the growth of more good biotics in your gut, naturally. Considerable evidence continues to mount that consumption of certain prebiotics can lead to significant health benefits, such as providing anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties and assisting in mineral absorption, metabolism and even atopic disease (like eczema).
So what to eat? Aim for chickpeas, lentils, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, barley and rye bread, cashews and pistachios, nectarines, watermelon, dried dates and figs, leeks, beets, and snowpeas.
Thanks to the smarts of a Scotsman named Alexander Fleming and his accidental discovery of Penicillin – a miracle mold that he found to destroy or inhibit the growth of bacteria – we are now able to quickly and efficiently treat a wide range of infections, many that were previously lethal. From pneumonia and gonorrhea to boils, sore throats and abscesses. It’s actually frightening to think that you may not have lived this long if it weren’t for Mr. Fleming and his special mold juice.
Penicillin became the world’s first “anti-biotic” which, using our definition, could also be termed “anti-bacterial” or “opposing life”. Antibiotics essentially kill bad bacteria or bad biotics.
When you’re sick with a nasty infection your entire focus is on getting those antibiotics into your system so that they can get to work, and they are remarkably effective. Some would argue too effective as certain bacteria strains have become resistant to antibiotics over the years.
Another downside to that uber effectiveness is that antibiotics often take out good bacteria while they’re working to make you healthy and that’s where probiotics come in.
Now that we know what a prebiotic is we can talk about synbiotics. It’s been shown that prebiotics is seemingly more effective when used as part of a synbiotic combination.8 Haven’t we always been told that teamwork is more productive than going it alone? Well, synbiotics is all about probiotics and prebiotics working together. In a nutshell, focus on rounding out your diet with the prebiotic foods listed above and then supplement that with either food high in probiotics or with probiotic supplements. With these two components working in “synergy” there seems little doubt that you can indeed improve your gut biotics and therefore your entire health and well being.
The term biotic may be pretty straight forward but there’s no denying it’s also incredibly interesting. Though it is thrown around like a buzzword today, biotics are actually the oldest living thing on earth. Indeed they make up all living things on the planet. So next time you want to impress a friend with your scientific knowledge, tell them that as a “biotic being” they really need to take care of their antibiotic consumption by implementing a synbiotic process between their prebiotic and probiotic intake. They should be suitably awed.