Probiotics are microorganisms that work to improve our health. Probiotics carry out an important role in regulating digestion and intestinal function through balancing intestinal microflora. These microflora are microscopic fungi and algae which are already in our digestive systems.
Our bodies hold about 3 and a half pounds of probiotic bacteria, making the probiotic mass in our bodies even heavier than our brains.
A number of health problems can arise from and imbalance of microbiota in the gut, namely gastrointestinal issues, immune dysfunction as well as infections. Several things can disrupt the bacterial balance in our bodies, including medical conditions and physical or emotional stress. One of the main sources of bacterial dis-balance is the use of antibiotics, which destroy both good and bad bacteria.
A true probiotic supplement will contain live active bacterial cultures, and this is easy to find as it should be written on the label. It is recommended to take probiotic products that have a minimum of 1 billion colony forming units as well as the genus Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces boulardii or Lactobacillus, which are some of the probiotics that have been most researched.
A good deal of food has strong probiotic content.
Active-culture yoghurt is one of the top contenders. It’s important to make sure you’re not getting yoghurt with any added sugars, as these are not the types of yoghurt that have probiotic properties.
Kefir is another dairy product that is high in probiotics. The actual name “Kefir” is taken from the Turkish word “keyif,” which means “feeling good.”
Kombucha tea is a form of black or green tea that has been fermented. It’s been used for a century as a cure for “stomach problems.” It also has properties that assist in weight-loss and is believed to increase energy.
Many more foods are good sources of probiotics, such as tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, cultured condiments, as well as fermented meat, fish, and eggs.
What are Prebiotics?
Now, what are prebiotics? Prebiotics work towards helping healthy bacteria grow in your stomach, enabling your digestive system to function better.
Prebiotics are actually carbs which your body isn’t able to digest. Because they can’t get digested, they travel down to your lower digestive tract where they take on the role of fertilizers and assist in the growth of healthy bacteria.
Besides feeding the good bacteria in our guts, prebiotics also helps us absorb calcium, ferment foods faster which causes them to spend less time in your digestive system, modify how food causes spikes in the blood sugar, and keep the cells lining our guts healthy.
Studies have now been launched to see if prebiotics can also help with gut diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, and how they contribute to weight-loss.
Besides supplements, there are a good many foods that are rich in prebiotics.
Acacia gum (or gum Arabic) can be made by mixing a tablespoon of acacia powder with water. A single tablespoon contains 6 grams of insoluble prebiotic fiber, which is just the kind of fiber that gut bugs thrive on.
Raw chicory root is an excellent source of antioxidants and a great cleanser for the system. It is often used in making kimchi.
Raw Jerusalem artichoke, also known as sunroot, is a type of sunflower chuck full of nutrients. It is rich in potassium and iron and goes great in salads.
Raw dandelion greens are also a great source of probiotics. They can be used well in salads.
Raw garlic has multiple health benefits, one of them being that it’s loaded with prebiotics.
More prebiotic foods include either cooked or raw onions, raw leeks, and raw asparagus.
Probiotics vs Prebiotics
Although probiotics and prebiotics sound very similar, they actually carry out different roles in our digestive systems. Prebiotic fibers are non-digestible parts of foods that, when ingested, go through our small intestine undigested and are fermented once reaching the large colon. The process of fermentation feeds bacteria colonies which are beneficial to our digestive systems, increasing our health and reducing the risk of disease.
Probiotics, however, are live beneficial bacteria which are created naturally through the process of fermentation in food. You can also find them in pill form, and as an ingredient in health drinks or yoghurt.
Lactobacillus is the most common probiotic and can be found in yoghurt as well as other fermented foods. This can help against diarrhea and may also provide help for people who are lactose intolerant.
Bifidobacterium is also found in many dairy products, and can ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and conditions related to IBS.
Probiotics are often recommended by health professionals and their benefits are widely known. They have been known to help ease the symptoms of gastrointestinal problems, both natural and those caused as a side effect from the use of medication. It’s also been known to decrease bacterial growth that leads to yeast infections.
The benefits of prebiotics, however, are more along the lines of multiplying helpful bacteria which are already in the gut, consequentially decreasing the risk of disease and improving general well-being. Prebiotic fiber is not quite as fragile as probiotic bacteria, since it’s unaffected by heat, time, or even stomach acid. And the fermentation process doesn’t change from person to person, it stays constant.
All in all, a good intake of both probiotics and prebiotics is beneficial and highly recommended for everyone.
The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics
Now you may be wondering “can I take probiotics and prebiotics together?” The answer is yes. They have different functions and will not harm your or cancel each other out in any way. There are, as a matter of fact, a good many foods that will provide you with both probiotics and prebiotics simultaneously.
They both assist our digestive systems and mental as well as overall health, but the largest difference between them is that probiotics contain live organisms which have already fermented and are digestible, while prebiotics are specialized plant fibers which aren’t digestible and make their way through your intestine and ferment in your lower colon.
Probiotics have multiple functions, such as reducing the risk of antibiotic-diarrhea by 60 percent, increasing gastrointestinal health, and even alleviating symptoms of depression. There is less research available on prebiotics than there is on probiotics, yet some of the benefits are apparent. As well as supporting a healthy gut and digestive system, prebiotics help us absorb calcium, change the speed with which we process carbohydrates, and support the growth of probiotic bacteria in the gut which potentially enhances the metabolism and digestion.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are a whole lot of different types of supplements. Lactobacillus, for example, has about 12 species out of 120 that are used as probiotics. Not to mention there are also varying types of bacteria, which allows for an overwhelming variety of probiotics.
This is why it’s important to know what your condition is and exactly what you’re trying to treat. That will make it a whole lot easier to choose exactly the right probiotic or prebiotic for your specific case. It’s advisable to ask for advice from your doctor or even a dietitian if you feel you need to up your intake of probiotics or prebiotics.