Prebiotics and Probiotics: What's the Difference and Why Do I Need Them
Discussions surrounding gut health are now picking pace. You've probably heard that the food you consume plays a vital role in balancing good and bad gut bacteria. However, if you don't understand the nitty-gritty details of what probiotics and prebiotics have to do with ensuring a healthy gut, this article is for you. We break down the definitions, benefits, and natural and alternative sources of probiotics and prebiotics to inform you how you could achieve good gut health.
What Are Probiotics and Prebiotics?
Despite sounding similar, probiotics and prebiotics have different roles in your health.
- Probiotics: These are foods or supplements containing live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve your body's microflora ("good" bacteria).
- Prebiotics: These high-fiber foods act as food for the microflora and stimulate the growth of preexisting good bacteria. Prebiotics help improve the balance of these microorganisms.
It's crucial to ensure you eat a balanced amount of probiotics and prebiotics. Having the right balance of these bacteria (microflora) ensures a healthy gut microbiota.
How Are Probiotics Beneficial?
A study conducted by the National Institute of Health in 2013 on bacteria in the gut confirmed some of the following benefits of gut flora:
- It improves digestive health in some people
- Good bacteria aid in the immune system functions like protection from harmful bacteria and fungi and staving off inflammation
- Taking probiotics during antibiotics medication reduces the risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea by 60%, according to a 2017 Cochrane review
- Help prevent the lethal disease — necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants
- Some of the gut bacteria are responsible for forming vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids (the primary nutrient source of the cells lining the colon)
- They improve mental health symptoms
- Help in obesity management
- Improves gastrointestinal health. People with stomach and related intestinal disorders may experience improvements using probiotics.
- Probiotics may decrease; gestational diabetes, need for antibiotics, vaginal infections, such as yeast infections, school absences from flu, the incidence of ventilator-assisted pneumonia, and eczema.
You can learn more about the top ten benefits of probiotics for men.
Are There Cons of Probiotics?
Yes. While few, it's important to know some cons associated with probiotics. They may include:
- People with weak immune systems are more likely to experience side effects
- In a 2017 review of 17 Cochrane, people who have Crohn's disease had a higher risk of hostile effects when they consumed a specific probiotic
- The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health suggests that probiotics could be harmful to people with severe underlying medical conditions
Benefits and Risks of Prebiotics
Although there is not enough research in the area of prebiotics, few studies have linked their benefits to those of probiotics. Others include:
- Improved gut wall health
- Regular bowel function
- Reduced cholesterol
- Increase calcium absorption
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Promotes weight loss
However, research into the cons of prebiotics' is still in its infancy.
Which Foods Are Probiotic?
Several Probiotic foods naturally contain good bacteria. They include:
- Fermented foods: traditional fermented buttermilk, fermented cheeses, miso soup, dairy and nondairy kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, unpasteurized pickles, other unpasteurized pickled vegetables, high quality, plain yogurt, and tempeh
Which Foods Are Prebiotic?
Prebiotics are a fiber generally indigestible by humans, but digestible by good gut bacteria. They are naturally found in:
- Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, onions, and chicory root
- Fruits: bananas, apple skin, and berries
- Legumes: beans and peas
Symbiotic foods such as cheese, kefir, and sauerkraut contain beneficial bacteria and are a prebiotic source of fiber for the bacteria to feed on.
Use and Proper Preservation of Probiotics and Prebiotics
To get the most out of them, you could consider the following preservation methods to maximize their effectiveness:
- The best way to take them is together, therefore increasing their effect.
- Probiotics are living organisms. Heat can damage them and should therefore be kept cool in a refrigerator.
- Antibiotics are known to kill the good bacteria in your gut. It's advisable to repopulate them after you've finished your dosage actively.
Alternative Sources of Probiotics
Probiotic supplements are powders, pills, or liquids used to deliver specific species of beneficial bacteria or yeast to the human gut. They, however, do not come with prebiotics for the bacteria to eat. Since prebiotics occurs naturally in many foods, there is no need to take prebiotic supplements; instead, one needs to incorporate prebiotic-rich foods.
There are over 500 types of probiotics, but most supplements only contain a few strains.
Probiotic supplements differ in quality depending on the brand. To ensure you get value for money, it's highly advisable to consult a healthcare professional who's well versed with supplements before starting on any.
The gut is the second brain! A healthy gut can save you numerous trips to the hospital, therefore, maximizing other aspects of your life. Care has to be taken when making your food choices to maintain a good number of good gut bacteria. Eating foods with high sugar and fat can feed the harmful bacteria in your gut, giving them a vantage point over the good bacteria, which may cause gut inflammation.
Although probiotics and prebiotics can be consumed in foods, you may need an extra boost of supplements. It would be best if you did your due diligence before settling on a specific brand of supplements for your overall wellbeing.
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