Probiotics vs Prebiotics
DISCLAIMER: This article has been written for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Probiotics and prebiotics, though sound similar are much different in their activities related to health. These two supplements are big topics in nutrition and beneficial for health.
Probiotics are supplements or foods containing live micro-organisms with the aim of improving good bacteria in the body. Prebiotics are foods with high fiber content that serves as food for good bacteria. These foods balance the human microflora in the body. To say, probiotics are good bacteria and prebiotics are food for these beneficial bacteria. Eating the right amount of probiotics and prebiotics helps your body to achieve the balance of this microbiota or gut flora.
Importance of Gut Microbiome
There are billions of living organisms like bacteria, yeast, and other organisms living in the lower digestive tract. Studies revealed that human flora contains 1000 different species of bacteria. Evidence also showed that these bacterial species may boost immune system, promote digestive health, optimize brain functions, manage diabetes and increase cardiovascular health.
This microbiota is formed at birth and varies according to environmental conditions and food. Toxic substances like environmental pollutants, alcohol overconsumption, cigarette smoke, and overuse of antibiotics affect the normal flora of the body. This normal flora can be balanced through healthy probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods while this control is not possible in children.
How Do Probiotics Work?
Probiotics or good bacteria help the digestive tract and provide protection from harmful bacteria and fungi. According to studies, these good bacteria promote immune health and overall health and wellbeing. Moreover, some probiotics may contain vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids necessary for various functions in the body.
Short-chain fatty acids provide nutrition to the colon cell lining and protect the colon from harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They relieve inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases including cancer.
Probiotics and prebiotics-What’s the Difference?
Probiotics and prebiotics are present in both foods and supplements forms and boost gut health by improving and balancing the gut bacteria. They provide food to these bacteria and encourage an environment favorable for growth of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics are good bacteria present in fermented foods like yogurt, tempeh, and sauerkraut. While, prebiotics are foods that are rich in fibers including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Health Benefits of Probiotics
There is a lot of research favoring the beneficial effects of probiotics on human health.
Promote Digestive Health
Studies revealed that probiotics boost digestive health in people and reduce digestive problems. According to a study, consumption of probiotics while using antibiotics result in a 60% reduction in diarrhea occurring due to antibiotics.
Another research showed that probiotics have the potential to lower the risk of life-threatening conditions like necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm babies.
Improve Brain Health
There is some evidence showing that probiotics may improve mental health. A review study concluded that probiotics may alleviate the symptoms of depression and boost brain health.
Prevent Gastrointestinal Diseases
Research revealed that people suffering from stomach and intestinal problems get benefit from probiotics and show improvement in GIT symptoms. A review of clinical trials in people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome shows that consuming probiotics help improve the symptoms of IBS.
Optimize Overall Health
Probiotics have the ability to prevent microbial infections, relieve respiratory problems, boost digestive and brain health, and reduce the consumption of antibiotics. Hence, probiotics are highly beneficial for overall health and wellbeing.
Possible Risks of Probiotics
Probiotics are good bacteria that benefits human in a variety of ways, but they may cause some adverse effects.
People suffering from Crohn’s disease experience adverse effects. Immune-compromised patients may experience some adverse effects from consuming probiotics.
Some studies show inconclusive results regarding the consumption of probiotics.
Foods Rich in Probiotics
Fermented foods like plain yogurt with live cultures are a great addition to your diet if you aim to enhance good bacteria. Some of the other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, unpasteurized pickles, dairy, non-dairy kefir, and kombucha tea.
In order to take probiotics from foods, make sure that fermented food is not pasteurized, as the pasteurization process damage bacteria. There are some foods and supplements available which contain both probiotic and prebiotic sources.
Prebiotics are high-fiber food that is not digested by humans and provide food to probiotics. They promote a healthy gut, improve GIT health, and relieve other health conditions.
There is little research on prebiotics than probiotics, however, evidence shows that prebiotics helps the body improve general health. The exact mechanism is unclear but they may increase calcium absorption, help the body process carbohydrates, increase the growth of gut bacteria and promote digestion and metabolism.
Prebiotics are naturally present in various foods and it reduces the need of taking prebiotics in supplement form. There is no evidence concluding that taking probiotics and prebiotics together can be harmful. It is suggested for people who are suffering from serious illnesses should not use these supplements. There is an extensive need for further investigations on the side effects of prebiotics.
Foods Containing Prebiotics
The addition of an adequate amount of fibrous food ensures that you have got enough quantities of prebiotics and you don’t need to take them in supplements. Prebiotics are fibers present in fruits, vegetables, and legumes that the human body cannot digest, however, our gut bacteria can easily do so.
Foods containing prebiotic fibers include
- Berries and bananas
- Beans, legumes, and peas
Our gut bacteria convert these prebiotics into butyrate which are short-chain fatty acids that protect the gut from harmful bacteria and other micro-organisms. Studies revealed that butyrate production is maintained by taking adequate quantities of prebiotics.
Effect of Food on Gut Microflora
The food we eat has a great role in improving and maintaining good bacteria in our intestines. For instance, eating a high fat and high sugar diet negatively affects the beneficial bacteria and develops insulin resistance. Harmful bacteria get food from unhealthy food, grow faster and colonize the gut and affect the good bacteria in the body. Moreover, pesticide-treated food badly affects gut bacteria and some antibiotics even alter some types of bacteria. High fiber food and probiotics help promote good bacteria which promote gut health and wellbeing.
When to Take Probiotic Supplements?
People around the globe from different cultures consume probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables. However, some people do not use these foods and require probiotic supplements to boost their digestive health.
Studies revealed that there are various conditions that are improved by taking probiotic supplements.
- Chronic constipation
- Lactose intolerance
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- All other health conditions which require antibiotics
Taking probiotics helps prevent necrotizing enterocolitis in infants and children get prebiotics and probiotics through breast milk and other formula milk.
Taking both probiotics and prebiotics is important for increasing and maintaining good bacteria in the digestive tract. They help improve good bacteria, provide food to them and boost digestion and metabolism. Research showed that taking the right amount of both these supplements or foods containing probiotics and prebiotics help maintain a healthy gut.