A balanced microbiome is a happy microbiome. And when the 50 trillion or so bacteria living in your gut are in harmony, you're likely to be pretty happy, too. That's because your microbiome keeps nearly every bodily function functioning optimally—from your immune system to your mood.
But what happens when stress, poor diet, or other outside factors throw off that delicate balance? When the bad bacteria start to outweigh the good, you may experience digestive issues, skin problems, a weakened immune system, and even depression.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep your microbiome in check. While probiotics are the superstar of gut wellness, prebiotics are just as important for maintaining balance in your digestive system. Here's everything you need to know about prebiotics, and why you should make sure they're a part of your daily routine.
What are prebiotics
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that act as food for probiotics—otherwise known as the good bacteria that live in your gut. In other words, prebiotics provide the probiotics with the nourishment they need to thrive and do their job properly.
Think of prebiotics as fertilizer for your probiotics—without prebiotics, the good bacteria would starve.
Prebiotics are found in a variety of plant-based foods, including:
- Yacon root
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
- Burdock root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Wheat bran
- Konjac root
While getting prebiotics from food is always the best way to go, you can also take a prebiotic supplement if you feel you're not getting enough from your diet. Just be sure to talk to your doctor first, as prebiotic supplements can cause excessive gas and bloating in some people during the first few weeks of taking them.
Benefits of prebiotics
Prebiotics promote balance in your gut, which is a key player in overall health and wellness. When you start to regain microbiome harmony, you might notice some subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts in your body.
They help regulate bowel movements
If you've ever experienced digestive issues, you know how frustrating they can be. Common problems like constipation, diarrhea, and bloating can make even the simplest activities—like going to the bathroom or enjoying a meal—a real pain.
Prebiotics improve digestion by promoting bowel regularity and keeping things moving smoothly. Because of this, they also help relieve constipation and diarrhea caused by other GI conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
They help absorb calcium
Prebiotics also play an important role in calcium absorption. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, and prebiotics help make sure your body is getting the most out of the calcium-rich foods you eat.
They may improve symptoms of gut conditions
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), prebiotics may help to ease symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation. That's because IBS is often caused by an imbalance of gut bacteria.
Research is still being done to determine the effectiveness of prebiotic supplements in treating IBS, but eating prebiotic-rich foods is a safe and easy way to promote gut health.
They may reduce blood sugar
High blood sugar levels can wreak havoc on your body, leading to conditions like type 2 diabetes. But prebiotics may help to regulate blood sugar levels as well as reduce levels of triglycerides and total cholesterol by changing how fast food causes your blood sugar to spike.
They may reduce inflammation
Inflammation is your body's natural response to infection or injury. But when it becomes chronic, it can contribute to a host of health problems, including heart disease and arthritis.
Prebiotics may help to reduce inflammation by preventing molecules that are pro-inflammatory from getting into your gut. More studies are needed to confirm the anti-inflammatory effects of prebiotics, but they show promise as a natural way to reduce inflammation.
They may reduce sugar cravings
Certain prebiotics—specifically galacto-oligosaccharides and oligofructose-enriched inulin—can reportedly reduce cravings for sugar as well as reduce appetite overall for some people. Again, more research is needed, but prebiotics may be a helpful tool for people who are trying to cut back on sugar.
They may support weight loss
Approximately 27 studies have found that taking a combination of probiotics and prebiotics may help people who are overweight or obese with fat loss and weight loss. Reducing and suppressing appetite could be why prebiotics are beneficial in this way.
They may boost immunity
By increasing the antibody responses in your gut, prebiotics may help to boost immunity and prevent infection.
They may help prevent cancer
Prebiotics may also play a role in cancer prevention. One study found that prebiotics have a protective effect against colorectal cancer. Probiotics may also be effective in reducing colorectal cancer as well as cancer of the liver, breast, bladder, colon, and cervix.
To sum it up
Improving your gut health is a key step in supporting overall wellness and longevity. Prebiotics are a safe and easy way to promote gut health, and they offer a variety of other benefits as well. From reducing inflammation to boosting immunity, prebiotics are a powerful tool everyone can use to feel better and limit the likelihood of future health struggles.
Try incorporating prebiotic-rich foods into your diet, or speak with a healthcare professional about taking a prebiotic supplement.
What are the benefits of prebiotics for weight loss?
A balanced gut can help you maintain a healthy weight. Prebiotics may help reduce cravings for sugar as well as reduce your overall appetite, which can lead to weight loss over time.
However, prebiotics are not a magic bullet for dropping unwanted pounds, nor are they a replacement for a healthy diet. Eating whole, unprocessed, prebiotic-rich foods is always your best bet when it comes to supporting gut health and reaching a healthy weight.
What are the benefits of prebiotics for skin?
The gut-skin connection is well-established. When your gut is out of balance, it can lead to inflammation and a variety of skin problems. Prebiotics may help to reduce inflammation, which can in turn improve the appearance of your skin.
Many skincare brands are now using prebiotics in their products, claiming to improve signs of aging, reduce dryness and protect your skin's barrier. However, there is limited research to support these claims.