Probiotics and prebiotics: What is the difference?

Probiotics and prebiotics are very important topics in nutrition these days.

However, although they sound similar, the two play different roles for their health.

Prorbiotics are beneficial bacteria, while prmyBiotics are food for these bacteria.

This article explains what you need to know about both.

What are probiotics and prebiotics?

Both prebiotics and probiotics are important for human health. However, they play different roles:

  • Probiotics: These are living bacteria that are found in certain foods or supplements. They can provide numerous health benefits.

  • Prebiotics: These substances come from the types of carbohydrates (mainly fiber) that humans can not digest. The beneficial bacteria in your intestine eat this fiber.

Intestinal bacteria, collectively referred to as the intestinal flora or intestinal microbiota, perform many important functions in the body.

Eating balanced amounts of pro and prebiotics can help ensure that you have the right balance of these bacteria, which should improve your health.

Bottom line: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. Prebiotics are types of fiber that feed friendly bacteria in the digestive system.

Why are intestinal bacteria beneficial?

Good bacteria in your digestive tract help protect it from harmful bacteria and fungi.

They also send signals to your immune system and help regulate inflammation (1, 2).

In addition, some of its intestinal bacteria form vitamin K and short chain fatty acids.

The short chain fatty acids are the main source of nutrients of the cells lining the colon. They promote a strong intestinal barrier that helps keep out harmful substances, viruses and bacteria. This also reduces inflammation and may reduce the risk of cancer (3).

Bottom line: Intestinal bacteria help with a variety of biological tasks. They also provide important nutrition for the cells lining the digestive tract.

How do foods affect the gut microbiota?

The food you eat plays an important role in the balance of good and bad intestinal bacteria.

For example, a diet rich in sugar and fat negatively influences intestinal bacteria, allowing harmful species to grow excessively (4, 5, 6).

Once you regularly feed the wrong bacteria, they can grow faster and colonize more easily, without so many useful bacteria to prevent them from doing so (7, 8).

Harmful bacteria can also cause you to absorb more calories than people with a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria, which tend to be leaner (9).

In addition, foods treated with pesticides such as Roundup can have negative effects on intestinal bacteria. However, more human research is needed on this (10, 11, 12).

Studies have also shown that antibiotics can cause permanent changes in certain types of bacteria, especially when taken during childhood and adolescence.

Because the use of antibiotics is so widespread, researchers are now studying how this can cause health problems in people later in life (13, 14).

Bottom line: Intestinal bacteria are affected by the food you eat. Chemical residues and antibiotics can also upset the balance in intestinal bacteria.

What foods are prebiotics?

Before going out and buying expensive prebiotic supplements, remember that many foods contain them naturally.

That's because prebiotics are types of fiber found in vegetables, fruits and legumes.

These types of fiber are not digestible by humans, but their good intestinal bacteria can digest them.

Foods that are rich in prebiotic fiber include:

  • Legumes, beans and peas.

  • Oats.

  • The bananas

  • Berries

  • Jerusalem artichokes (not the same as regular artichokes).

  • Asparagus.

  • Lion teeth.

  • Garlic.

  • Leeks

  • Onions.

One of the things that your good intestinal bacteria do with prebiotic fiber is to turn it into a short chain fatty acid called butyrate.

Butyrate has been studied extensively and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects within the colon (15).

It can also influence gene expression, block the growth of cancer cells and help fuel healthy cells so that they can grow and divide normally.

Bottom line: Prebiotics are types of fiber that humans can not digest, but their intestinal bacteria can. These types of fiber provide nutrients to bacteria that favor healthy digestion and immune function.

What foods are probiotics?

There are also many probiotic foods that naturally contain useful bacteria, such as yogurt.

A high quality natural yogurt with live cultures can be a fantastic supplement for your diet if you want to add beneficial bacteria.

Fermented foods are another great option, since they contain beneficial bacteria that develop in sugar or the natural fiber of food.

Examples of fermented foods include:

  • Sauerkraut.

  • Kimchi

  • Kombucha tea

  • Kefir (dairy and non-dairy).

  • Some types of pickles (not pasteurized).

  • Other vegetables pickled (not pasteurized).

If you are going to eat fermented foods for their probiotic benefits, make sure they are not pasteurized, as this process kills the bacteria.

Some of these foods can also be considered symbiotic, because they contain both of them Beneficial bacteria and a prebiotic source of fiber for bacteria to feed.

An example of a symbiotic food is sauerkraut.

Bottom line: Probiotic foods naturally contain useful bacteria. Many of these foods can be made at home or purchased at a grocery store.

What about probiotic supplements?

Probiotic supplements are pills, capsules or liquids that contain beneficial beneficial bacteria.

They are very popular and easy to find, but not all are worth your money. Not all have the same types of bacteria, or the same concentrations.

In general, they do not come with fibrous food sources for bacteria to eat.

Some probiotic supplements are designed to transport bacteria to the large intestine for better effects, while others probably do not outgrow the acid in your stomach.

There are some people who should not take a probiotic, or who may experience symptoms worsened if they do, such as people with bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine (SIBO) or people sensitive to the ingredients in the supplement.

However, the correct strains of probiotics can be incredibly beneficial for some people.

As with all supplements, you may want to consult with a health professional who has knowledge about probiotics.

Bottom line: Probiotic supplements are designed to deliver very specific bacterial species to the human intestine. However, not all probiotic supplements are of the same quality or contain the same amount of bacteria.

Bring the message home

Maintaining the balance of intestinal bacteria is important for many aspects of health.

To do this, eat many prebiotic and probiotic foods, as they will help promote the most ideal balance between good and bad intestinal bacteria.

At the end of the day, the optimization of the intestinal flora can have important health benefits.



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