Probiotics are live microorganisms that promote health benefits upon consumption, while prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics and/or prebiotics could be used as alternative supplements to exert health benefits, including cholesterol-lowering effects on humans. Past in vivo studies showed that the administration of probiotics and/or prebiotics are effective in improving lipid profiles, including the reduction of serum/plasma total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides or increment of HDL-cholesterol. However, other past studies have also shown that probiotics and prebiotics had insignificant effects on lipid profiles, disputing the hypocholesterolemic claim. Additionally, little information is available on the effective dosage of probiotics and prebiotics needed to exert hypocholesterolemic effects. Probiotics and prebiotics have been suggested to reduce cholesterol via various mechanisms. However, more clinical evidence is needed to strengthen these proposals. Safety issues regarding probiotics and/or prebiotics have also been raised despite their long history of safe use. Although probiotic-mediated infections are rare, several cases of systemic infections caused by probiotics have been reported and the issue of antibiotic resistance has sparked much debate. Prebiotics, classified as food ingredients, are generally considered safe, but overconsumption could cause intestinal discomfort. Conscientious prescription of probiotics and/or prebiotics is crucial, especially when administering to specific high risk groups such as infants, the elderly and the immuno-compromised.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.