Prebiotics are of central importance in nourishing the body’s microbiota, and are typically comprised of fermentable carbohydrates like oligosaccharides or polyols. However, prebiotics like these can serve as growth substrates for pathogens (certain strains of Clostridia or E. coli, for example) as well as beneficial species, and some carbohydrate prebiotics are associated with gastrointestinal discomfort. In addition, prebiotics can show considerable variability in their overall effects on gut microbiome composition, with inconsistent clinical results.
In addressing the activities of prebiotics and probiotics, the authors consider the totality of interactions between a host organism and those comprising the host’s microbiota: the combined, interdependent, symbiotic living unit known as the “holobiont.” The human gut microbiome encompasses dynamic environmental, biochemical, and health variables that influence both host and microbiota, including caloric and non-caloric nutrition, metabolic function, epigenetic repatterning, regulation of cell signaling, interactive elaboration of novel metabolites by both host and microbiota, immune and stress responses, and the combined prebiotic and antimicrobial effects of a host’s diet, among others.
In recent studies, certain polyphenols have been evaluated as second-generation prebiotics that differentially impact friendly flora and pathogens and possess unique functional profiles.
Strategic combinations of particular polyphenols and probiotics may be termed ‘synbiotics’ that favorably alter gut microbiome composition in a synergistic manner.
The Evolution of Prebiotics into Functional Synbiotics
Probiotics, prebiotics, and polyphenolic phytonutrients are all revered for gut microbiome and health benefits. New research is discovering that polyphenols can interact in complex ways with the gut microbiome and with probiotic species to release unique metabolites that possess heightened bioactivity. Strategic pairing of probiotics and polyphenols for targeted conditions is an emerging avenue of personalized intervention.