Synbiotics Are The Latest Healthy Girl Trend - But Do They Really Improve Your Gut Health?

Gut health is the backbone of your overall health. It helps with digestion and removal of metabolic waste and toxins, the absorption of nutrients from the food you eat, and converts their potential chemical energy into usable fuel for your body. When you have a weak gut, widespread inflammation, diarrhea, gastric pain, constipation, and brain fog become common. "Your body is like a spider web. You can't touch part of a web without impacting the rest," says Lori Chang, associate director at Clinical Nutrition, told The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

One of the most recommended ways to improve gut health is to consume foods and supplements containing prebiotics or probiotics. Prebiotics works by promoting healthy bacteria in the gut to aid with digestion and improve general health. Meanwhile, probiotics add beneficial bacteria to your body to defend the immune system. While prebiotics and probiotics are widely considered the gold standard in gut health improvement, they are not the most advanced solution out there.

Synbiotics — a buzzword catching on among wellness enthusiasts — are the latest gut-care trend. You know synbiotics are legit when they are all the rage with celebrities in the ranks of Cameron Diaz, Jessica Biel, Karlie Kloss, and Terrence Lewis. Synbiotics are even dubbed the 2.0 version of prebiotics and probiotics. So, can they really improve your gut health? Here's what we know so far. 

What are synbiotics?

Before defining synbiotics, let's learn the difference between prebiotics and probiotics. Commonly found in onions, legumes, garlic, and supplement forms, prebiotics are indigestible fibers that nourish beneficial bacteria in the intestines. Probiotics, on the other hand, are a healthy colony of live microorganisms in the digestive tract that feed on prebiotics. Synbiotics represent the synergistic benefits of prebiotics and probiotics in one supplement. They perk up gut health by boosting the number of beneficial microbes in the digestive system and giving these bacterial cells the nutrients they need for their growth. 

A synbiotic combination of probiotics and prebiotics may alleviate symptoms among people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ramp up the immune system, improve symptoms of lactose intolerance, and stave off asthma-like symptoms in babies with atopic dermatitis. Research also suggests that synbiotics can aid in weight loss. According to a 2022 study published in Frontiers In Nutrition, which looked at 61 children with obesity over 12 weeks, a daily intake of multistrain synbiotics, in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise, resulted in significant decreases in body weight (4%), BMI (5.1%), waist circumference (6%), and hip circumference (2.4%).

The benefits of synbiotics also extend to skin health. Prenatal supplementation during pregnancy or soon after delivery was shown to be preventative against the onset of the chronic skin disease atopic dermatitis, a randomized controlled trial published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found.

How to use synbiotics safely

You can find synbiotics in the form of foods and supplements. You can combine foods containing prebiotics and probiotics to bring about a good mix of synbiotics. For instance, green bananas, chicory roots, onions, oats, acacia gum, garlic, and asparagus are typical prebiotic foods. Fermented foods such as tempeh, natto, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir contain probiotics. Consider taking supplements if you're not getting enough synbiotics in your daily diet.  

While synbiotics are safe to consume daily, this rule has a few exceptions. "I would not necessarily recommend everyone to jump on a [single] synbiotic product before considering the 'why,'" dietician Naria Le Mire tells TZR: "First, everyone should have a daily dose of probiotics, as they are vital for a healthy digestive system — they can help you stay regular. However, some individuals may have unique goals or circumstances that may need a more specific type of probiotics." For those who need to increase their fiber intake or whose daily diet lacks probiotic-rich foods, taking synbiotic supplements is advisable. When and how to add synbiotics, probiotics, or prebiotics into one's diet varies from person to person.  

There's a caveat concerning the use of synbiotics, though. Transparent Labs cautions that taking high doses of synbiotics may lead to mild constipation and dehydration. To help boost tolerance and get the most out of your synbiotic blend, drink lots of water, start with a modest amount of supplements, and gradually increase dosages.