Gut health is one of the hottest health topics these days, and prebiotics and probiotics are at the center of conversation. Even though you may be familiar with these terms, do you know what makes them different from each other? They each play various roles in keeping your gut happy and healthy, and this article aims to break them down in order for you to understand their differences.
Both prebiotics and probiotics are available through various supplements and foods. When you incorporate enough of them into your diet, you support healthier digestion, immune function, and nutrient absorption. Ultimately, they help establish healthier bacteria in the gut. By populating the gut with good bacteria, you can help stave off inflammation and protect the body from harmful infections. Since a lot of health problems relate to poor gastrointestinal health, establishing healthier gut bacteria is of the utmost importance.
What Are Probiotics?
You’ve probably heard of probiotic foods, including yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and miso. While they do exist in these foods, they are strains of living bacteria and yeasts that inhabit your intestines, mouth, urinary tract, lungs, skin, and vagina. Various types of probiotic strains live in different areas of the body, and they do different things for your health. The two most common strains are bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, with a common yeast being saccharomyces boulardii. Click here to learn more about some of the best probiotic strains.
Probiotics are partially responsible for the state of your intestinal microbiome. These living organisms exist within the body, but you can destroy them by eating unhealthy foods. When you eat more probiotics, you increase the presence of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, making them outnumber unhealthy microorganisms. When this balance in favor of healthy bacteria exists in the gut, you can experience better health, especially better digestion and immune function.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are not bacteria or yeasts; rather, they are the non-digestible parts of plant food that work to feed probiotic populations. Humans actually don’t have the proper enzymes that can break down prebiotics for absorption. The bacteria in your gut, however, efficiently break them down for energy and create byproducts that have potential health benefits. Additionally, prebiotics encourage the reproduction of more probiotics in the gut. Some common prebiotics include:
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
- Resistant starch
- Fructans (inulin and fructooligosaccharides)
- Oligofructose (fructose)
When prebiotics ferment in the gut, they produce short-chain fatty acids, which researchers note have several health benefits. Both inulin and oligofructose seem to be the most effective at boosting the production of diverse probiotics. You can click here to learn about some of the best sources of prebiotics.
The Benefits Of Probiotics
According to research, probiotics may be effective at treating symptoms of enteritis, bacterial infections, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other gastrointestinal disorders. In fact, a systematic review of trials in people with IBS found that probiotics improved symptoms. As of now, though, it is unclear how probiotics benefit the condition, or which strains of probiotics are most effective. Those who are lactose intolerant may also benefit from consuming more probiotics. What is clear is the results of a 2017 review of 17 Cochrane reviews. The authors of the review found that probiotics may decrease symptoms of eczema, the frequency of yeast infections, the need for antibiotics, and gestational diabetes. Finally, a smaller review of studies found that probiotics may reduce the symptoms of depression, but more research is necessary on this topic.
The Benefits Of Prebiotics
As of now, there is less research on prebiotics than on probiotics. Prebiotics, however, feed probiotics so that they can establish a healthier gut microbiome. The fermentation process of prebiotics in the gut actually stimulates the immune system to fight various pathogens. One study found that prebiotics may help to increase the absorption of certain minerals, especially calcium. Other studies found that prebiotics may increase metabolic function, decrease the risk of allergies, and reduce the presence of LDL cholesterol in the blood.
For most healthy people, there is no need to take prebiotic or probiotic supplements. Supplementation is typically for people who have weaker immune systems or underlying health conditions. Make sure that your diet consists of various fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fermented foods, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Eating in this manner makes it possible to consume sufficient amounts of both prebiotics and probiotics.