Prebiotics vs. Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics sound similar right? But these two play very distinct roles for your body. In a nutshell, probiotics refer to the beneficial bacteria while prebiotics are the non-digestible foods that help promote the growth of these beneficial bacteria in our stomach.
Both probiotics and prebiotics are given much hype now as various nutritional researches have revealed how our body can benefit from the good bacteria in our gut.
The gut bacteria, referred to as the gut microbiota or gut flora collectively, perform a number of important functions that support our overall health and wellness. From improving digestion, reducing bowel inflammation, strengthening the immune system and even enhancing cognitive health, the benefits of having abundant good gut bacteria is far-reaching. It is not surprising then that probiotics supplements and probiotic-rich foods are becoming more popular nowadays.
Notably, though, a lot of us seem to undermine the importance of prebiotic foods. It seems that only a few people have developed awareness about how prebiotics can deliver positive impacts to our body, particularly when used in conjunction with probiotics rich foods.
Read on and find out what you need to know about probiotics and prebiotics, and why incorporating both in your diet is good for your health.
In this article:
What is Probiotics
There are a huge number of living microorganisms naturally present in our body. While most of us may instantly think of these microorganisms as harmful bacteria or germs, there are actually a plethora of beneficial bacteria in our body that help bump up our digestive system and overall health, these are what we call probiotics.
Probiotics are comprised of different types of good bacteria. But the most common types are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium as well as the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.
So, what exactly do probiotics do to our body? A lot of research has been done pertaining to how probiotics offer promising health benefits to our body. Still, a lot has remained yet to be learned.
However, researchers believe that generally, probiotics keep you healthy by acting as the body’s natural neutralizer. It helps maintain the appropriate balance of the good and the bad bacteria in our body to make sure that our body functions well. Our lifestyle can also significantly affect the levels of good bacteria that can flourish in our body which can encourage and heighten the bad bacteria, one of the main culprits of various diseases and health issues. With inadequate sleep, poor choices of food in our diets, stress, environmental pollution and heavy use of antibiotics we lose a great deal of these much-needed good bacteria in our system. This is where probiotics come into play. Probiotics work best in replacing these lost helpful bacteria to keep our health in its tip-top shape.
You’ve probably heard about probiotic supplements. They are produced massively and are easily found available in health food stores now, thanks to the spreading awareness about the health-boosting benefits of probiotics. But before wasting your money on them, know that not all probiotic supplements have equal types of bacteria or the same desirable concentrations. The great news is, there are a wide variety of foods that contain helpful bacteria. Probiotics rich foods include yogurt, kimchi, kombucha tea, kefir, Sauerkraut, miso, pickles, and tempeh.
Ideally, our diet should be the ideal source for probiotics. That said, the best sources for probiotics come from natural and whole food sources rather than those largely found in dietary supplements. There are a lot of probiotics dietary supplements available in the market now but not all of them are monitored and approved by the FDA. Simply put, we can’t be truly certain that the probiotic supplements sold to us are genuinely safe and offer us the benefits we are looking for.
Overall, for most people consumption of probiotics, both food and supplement, is considered safe. However, caution must be taken by those people who have special health needs, those with underlying health conditions and individuals with weakened immune system either due to a disease such as HIV or treatment for a disease such as cancer chemotherapy. This also holds true among children, elderly, pregnant women and also those who have had surgery. Some of the known side effects from consuming probiotics food and supplements include bloating, diarrhea, gas and upset stomach. It may also trigger allergic reactions for some individuals.
The Benefits of Adding Probiotics in Your Diet
Probiotics are helpful microorganisms that provide a lot of benefits in our body and our overall health, which include the following:
- Promote a healthy digestive system
- Provide immune system support
- Potentially treat and prevent certain health problems such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease as well as vaginal infections
- Improve oral health
- Help prevent common colds
- Help improve cognitive health
What is Prebiotics
Prebiotics, by definition, are the non-digestible group of fiber compounds. Since our body cannot break them down completely, they aren’t digested and as such these compounds are able to progress all the way to our intestines where they are fermented and gobbled up by the gut microbiota.
Prebiotics, therefore, serve as food for the probiotics in our body. They are essentially the good bacteria ‘promoters’ and are helpful in augmenting the number of the good bacteria in our body to keep our body healthy and lower our risks from certain types of diseases.
Prebiotics are more stable than probiotics. They are not affected by long-term storage or temperature in the body. They have excellent abilities to resist the body’s natural gastric acids and enzymes. As such, they remain intact and unaltered as they pass all the way through our colon and once there they selectively nourish the health-beneficial bacteria present in the gut.
Prebiotics are typically found abundant in fruits, vegetables and legumes. Prebiotic-rich foods include acacia gum, chicory root, unripe or green bananas, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, and leeks.
Just like probiotics, it is best to get your source of prebiotics from the naturally occurring sources or food. Prebiotic food naturally included in our diet will always easily trump out those synthetic prebiotic supplements available in the market now.
Prebiotics work best in harmony with probiotics in our body. While taking them is relatively safe for most individuals, there are also some known side effects of using prebiotics. Consuming higher amounts of prebiotics may cause excess gas in the stomach, discomfort, abdominal bloating and diarrhea.
It is also important to increase your water consumption when taking prebiotics. Prebiotics, just like most of the foods rich in fiber, can slow down your digestion which in turn may cause dehydration and lead to constipation. Drinking plenty of water while adding generous amounts of prebiotics in your diet is a good way to avoid constipation and keep your digestive system function smoothly.
The Benefits of Adding Prebiotics in Your Diet
Feeding the good bacteria in our body is vital, otherwise they can easily die off or get overpowered by the bad bacteria in our body. Adding prebiotics in your diet helps promote the growth of probiotics which in turn offers numerous benefits for our well-being. The benefits of consuming prebiotics include the following:
- Improved digestion and better gut health
- Strengthen the immune system
- Potentially enhance calcium absorption
- May aid in weight loss
- Promote cardiovascular health
- Enhance mood and regulate hormone levels
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?
It is clear that both probiotics and prebiotics are essential to our health. But we should also know that these two are very much different and take on unique roles in our body. Unlike the probiotics, prebiotics are not living organisms. Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed and encourage the growth of the health beneficial microorganisms in our body.
On the other hand, probiotics are the beneficial microorganisms that are naturally present in our body. As a matter of fact, they are present from the moment that we are born. These good bacteria line our digestive tract and support our body’s absorption of nutrients and fight various infections.
According to experts, for optimum health the balance of microorganisms within our system must ideally be 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. When there is an imbalance of these microorganisms (also referred to as dysbiosis) in our body, it can increase our risks for inflammation and developing negative health conditions. Here comes the advantage of taking probiotics, they help supplement and bring back the balance of the ideal percentage of good bacteria in our system.
Prebiotics and Probiotics as the Dynamic Duo Health Booster
For years, much research has been done to support the many health benefits of probiotics in our digestive system and our overall wellness. The good gut bacteria have been scientifically proven to be effective in enhancing our immune system functions, promote healthy digestion, maintain beautiful skin and even boost mental health. Needless to say, maintaining a desirable percentage of good bacteria in our body is of paramount importance for our general health and wellness.
Consuming foods that contain a significant amount of probiotics regularly can do so much for our health. Moreover, by taking prebiotics we can harness the optimum benefits we can get from probiotics rich food. Prebiotics exist as fuel for these probiotics in our system.
As the probiotics in our body can be significantly altered and may easily get outbalanced, prebiotics work in feeding the good bacteria and thus encourage their growth. There are a number of factors and different ways that can weaken or kill the gut-friendly flora in our system. Our diet particularly plays an important role when we talk about maintaining the adequate level of good bacteria in our system. High sugar consumption, GMO foods, antibiotics and other medications can contribute to the lose of probiotics in our body. The same goes with poor lifestyle habits, lack of sleep, smoking, too much alcohol consumption, chronic emotional stress and a sedentary lifestyle.
Consuming foods rich in probiotics in conjunction with prebiotics rich foods offer a number of benefits to our body and improve our general health. Probiotics and prebiotics can work in synergy with one another and provide optimum benefit to our digestive system. You can add more probiotics in your diet by consuming healthy sour foods such as apple cider vinegar and fermented foods, fruits and vegetables.
If you are considering using probiotics supplements, remember that not all commercially available probiotics are created equal. There are several things you should look for before you even decide to waste your money in supplements that claim to offer you the benefits of probiotics.
You should look for highly reputable brands, supplements with higher CFU (colony farming units) or probiotics count, supplements that offer bacteria strains that are likely to survive and really make it to the gut and those that contain minimal to no significant amount of sugar. Know that sugar can help cultivate the number of bad bacteria in your body. As always, it’s best to consult your doctor prior to considering taking in supplements including prebiotics and probiotics.
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Cognitive Health
Did you know that the benefits of good bacteria extend up to our brain health? There are reasons why it is said that much of the health problems originate from the gut. As much as 80% of our body’s entire immune system is located in our digestive tract. This is exactly why it is very crucial to maintain the ideal level of healthy microorganisms in our digestive system.
But aside from its huge influence in our immune system, our neurological system is also predominantly affected by our gut health. Gut dysfunctions has been linked to anxiety, depression and other mood disorders as well as impact the brain functions.
Some studies have revealed the beneficial impact of probiotics on the mental health. Thus, it may not be surprising that some people may consider probiotics as the new best nootropic. The cognitive health advantages of probiotics include improved memory, decreased anxiety and depression and less social anxiety. While there a lot of nootropics designed for metal health support, you may want to incorporate probiotics in your diet to make the most out of them.
This is a guest post by Ankit Rathi, Quality Assurance & Regulatory Affairs Supervisor at Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics.