Synbiotics: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on September 15, 2023
2 min read

Synbiotics are mixtures of probiotics (helpful gut bacteria) and prebiotics (non-digestible fibers that help these bacteria grow). Specifically, they're combinations of these two things that work together (synergistically) in your digestive tract.

The idea behind synbiotics is that the prebiotics help the probiotics survive in your intestines. This could help balance your gut bacteria, which is thought to benefit your gut health, metabolism, and immune system.

You can get synbiotics as supplements or in foods. Researchers have added them to pasta, beverages, candy, and yogurt.

Synbiotics are thought to help your body in several ways:

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Scientists believe synbiotics may reduce gut inflammation and help relieve symptoms in people with IBD.

Travelers’ diarrhea. You get this when you eat or drink contaminated food and water, usually when you visit a place with different sanitary practices. It causes cramps and diarrhea. Synbiotics may help to prevent it.

Lactose intolerance. People with this condition have symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain, and gas after eating or drinking dairy products. That's because they can't properly digest a sugar found in milk called lactose. Studies have shown that synbiotics could reduce these symptoms.

Immune function. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics may benefit your immune system. We need more research on this, but studies have found that synbiotics improved the immune function of rats.

Obesity and hyperglycemia. In one study, people with obesity who ate synbiotic pasta once a day for 12 weeks had fewer signs of inflammation and better cholesterol levels. And study participants with high blood sugar had lower levels of a hormone linked to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

While lab studies indicate that synbiotics offer many benefits, we need much more research into how they actually affect the human body.

Scientists also face some challenges in getting them to consumers. They need to figure out how to keep the probiotics active while they're on the shelf. They also need to find a way to ensure products actually contain enough live probiotics to be helpful.

Because symbiotic products are considered dietary supplements, they're not tightly regulated by the FDA. So they may not be tested for safety and effectiveness. Always check with your doctor before trying a new supplement.