If you happen to suffer from germophobia, this may startle you. Trillions of microbes – bacteria mostly and other microorganisms live in your intestines and on the skin. Of them, close to 2 to 5lbs, are found in a pocket of the large intestine called the cecum – they are referred to as the gut microbiome. In most healthy adults, they even outnumber the number of human cells in your body. The bacteria in the gut microbiome are the most studied as the effects of the bacteria on general health have been found to be numerous and diverse. Most bacteria contribute to good health and upkeep of the human body but there are some that are not so nice.
Over the millennia, our bodies have learned to live in harmony with our microscopic pals and these microbes have learned to play very critical roles in the body. The gut microbiome provides you with numerous health benefits starting from the digestion of breast milk to controlling brain health. The bacteria also influence your weight gain or loss, control the occurrence of diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, control digestive health, power mental health, and even contribute to diabetes. The most important role of the gut microbiota is immune function. Central to human health, the propensity to fall sick or otherwise is what drives us as a species and the bacteria in the gut can help you stay healthy.
Critical to gastrointestinal health and general well-being is the balance between the good bacteria and the bad bacteria in the intestines. An imbalance is called dysbiosis. When healthy bacteria are overpowered by harmful bacteria we experience a range of symptoms – relatively minor ones like gas to severe ones like autoimmune disorders. The beneficial bacteria ensure that the human body (the host) stays healthy so that they have a comfortable niche to thrive in. Disease, food habits, or lifestyle choices harm the helpful bacteria leading to a break in the intestinal barrier. The gaps between the cells of the intestine walls widen allowing harmful bacteria, undigested food, and toxins to escape into the bloodstream causing mayhem in the body.
To keep the gut bacteria from misbehaving there are a few things we can do. Let’s start with some lifestyle health tips.
- Get up and get moving, as research suggests that exercise influence the health of the gut flora.
- Stop processed and junk food – they not only are really bad for you but the bad bacteria feed off them too.
- Stress has been found to negatively influence living microorganisms. They oftentimes simply give up and this leads to gastrointestinal crisis.
- Sleeping more and getting the rest your body deserves is vital for your mental stability. The gut bacteria need it too.
- Changing your diet could also help immensely. Switching to plant foods or food sources that are natural and organic can make a world of difference. If your gut seems to be out of whack more often than not start the use of prebiotic or probiotic supplements – they really help.
On the subject of supplements, when you go down to the local medical store and walk up to the supplement aisle. There you see probiotic and prebiotic supplements. You see similar labels attached to food too. What is the difference? Yes, they are both for gut health, and yes, they both are needed. Learn more about the Top 10 Best Pre-Probiotic supplements that can also treat leaky gut! But which one works how and why? Here are the answers to those questions.
Everything You Need to Know
Prebiotic or probiotic food or supplements have several health benefits but knowing which one to take when is very important. You have to know the difference between them. Both prebiotics and probiotics play a vital role in digestive health but these roles are very different. Before we understand the difference between them, we must understand the role of the food you consume on the gut bacteria.
A high sugar high fat diet influences the gut negatively as a diet like this is something the bad bacteria feed off of. Once the harmful bacteria are sufficiently fed, they become stronger and multiple quicker – leading to dysbiosis and digestive distress. The friendly bacteria, because of lack of nutrition do not have the strength or the numbers to put up a fight. Do you see where this is going? A healthy meal plan means that you feed the bacteria that help you and not the others. Diverse gut flora is good but the diversity must include more beneficial bacteria. So how do you feed the good bacteria?
Most healthy adults should have close to about 100 trillion bacteria living in the gut – both good and bad. As a responsible host to these guests, it is your duty to feed them and keep them nourished as they do fulfill a lot of roles in the body.
Prebiotics, quite simply put, are the food sources of good bacteria. You can get them through food or supplements. The easiest source of prebiotics though is your food. Apart from feeding the bacteria, prebiotics does have several other health benefits like:
- Regulating bowel movement
- Producing neurotransmitters that control mood and motivation
- Stimulating hormone production for appetite
- Helping bones use calcium and phosphorus that make them stronger
- Boosting the immune system.
- Enhancing the anti-inflammatory response in the body and
- Providing nourishment for the helpful bacteria so that they may thrive and multiply.
Prebiotic foods are high in fermentable soluble fiber. Cooking tends to change the structure of food so you must be careful when eating for your gut. Want to know what Best Gut Health Foods are, read more! As much as possible, eat food raw – most plant foods are high in fiber. Generally, foods that are high in resistant starch, inulin, and pectin are what you are looking for.
Resistant Starch: As the name suggests, resistant starch cannot be digested by the human stomach and is sent to the colon where the beneficial microbes go to work. These starches are broken down to produce butyrate – an enzyme that helps the immune system, water, and electrolyte absorption and works against inflammation. The higher the count of beneficial bacteria the more butyrate you have.
Foods rich in Resistance Starch: You can find resistant starch in boiled potatoes, green bananas, and whole grains – barley, oats, rice, beans, and legumes.
Inulin: A prebiotic food that is found in almost all plants.
- It can leave you feeling full for longer so this can curb overeating.
- It also helps bowels movements – with regulation and texture.
- It also regulates LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), stabilizes blood sugar, and keeps the bacteria in the gut healthy.
All in all, it improves digestive health and when inulin levels are high, you get anti-oxidation and vitamin metabolism too.
Foods rich in Inulin: Food high in inulin includes asparagus, burdock root, chicory root, garlic, leeks, onions, soybeans, wild yams, and Jerusalem artichokes.
Pectin: Found in most fruits and some vegetables, pectin is a gel-like starch. This starch has anti-oxidant and anti-tumor properties. Along with keeping the beneficial bacteria sated, pectin resists the attempts of bacterial infection to take root in the system. It is also able to keep diversity alive in the gut microbiome.
Foods rich in Pectin: Foods high in pectin are raw apples, apricots, carrots, green beans, peaches, raspberries, and tomatoes.
When it comes to prebiotic foods it is suggested that you don’t do it all in one go – begin slow. As these foods cannot be digested by the stomach, there may be some shows of resistance like gas, nausea, or bloating if you indulge in them all at once. Start by alternating prebiotic foods with your meals twice a week and increase frequency gradually. Everybody is different and it is difficult to predict how your gastrointestinal system would react to prebiotics. Research is scarce but it is a known fact that prebiotics is good for you.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed, provide the host – us, with health benefits. There are various strains of bacteria and there are some heated arguments as to which strain provides us with the most benefits. On the whole live bacteria, and sometimes yeasts, function as probiotics. The general consensus is that the more diverse the bacteria in the gut the healthier you are. Probiotics work by replenishing the numbers of the bacteria in the gut or to introduce new varieties to the flora. Live beneficial bacteria do a lot for us like;
- Aid the digestive system with the breaking up of food.
- Line the digestive tract with a mucosal lining that protects the walls
- Impacts weight loss
- Helps with the production of serotonin – the happy hormone
- Keeps yeast infections at bay
- Fight inflammation
- Boosts immunity
- Has anti-aging and skin health benefits.
The operative term is “live”. Cooking or processing probiotic foods can kill off the bacteria that are trying to work for you so ingest them the way they are. Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics. Many foods that are dairy-based and kept refrigerated also have probiotic value. Some beneficial bacteria strains are lactobacillus – acidophilus, fermentum, plantarum, rhamnosus, paracasei and Bifidobacterium – infantis, longum, bifidum, breve, thermophilus.
Foods Rich in Probiotic Bacteria: Probiotic foods that carry live strains of bacteria, like the ones above, are what you should be ingesting.
- Foods like yogurt,
- Kefir – a fermented milk drink,
- Sauerkraut – fermented shredded cabbage,
- Tempeh – fermented soybean by-product,
- Kimchi – fermented cabbage again,
- Miso – Japanese seasoning,
- Kombucha – fermented tea drink,
- Pickles in brine and
- Organic buttermilk.
An often-repeated word here is fermented. That is because fermented foods usually carry the bacteria that we require and we need them alive. You should be able to find these foods in the cold storage section of the grocery store as high temperatures can kill off the probiotic bacteria.
*Note: However, not all fermented foods are probiotics. Check the label to see if the product mentions a CFU count. If there is no such label, the item is not probiotic.
Probiotic foods or supplements generally do not have any side effects. That being said before you make any major changes to your diet speak to a healthcare professional. Pre-existing health conditions or prescription medication can be influenced by probiotics.
Probiotics and prebiotics both provide health benefits. They should be taken to improve digestive health and to keep the whole body in good working order. A quick summary:
|What are they?||Prebiotics are nondigestible food that benefits the body allowing the bacteria in the gut to grow and thrive.||Probiotics are good bacteria that help keep the body healthy.|
|What is their role in gut health?||Nourish the existing good bacteria in the gut.||Replenish the numbers of the bacteria that were lost to disease or ill-health|
|Where can you obtain them naturally?||Through plant foods and fiber-rich food||Through fermented foods and drinks.|
|Is this vital to gut health?||Yes||Yes|
|Are there any negative effects?||No, but there may be some initial discomfort||No, but can influence prescription medication, check with a healthcare provider.|
Prebiotic or Probiotic Supplement
If you start with a gut-healthy diet, chances are that your gut will be in order most of the time, learn more about Healthy Gut Diet Plan. However, if it has been acting up lately, diet alone is not going to help. Your gut needs backup – supplements. When you see a doctor, depending on the symptoms and intensity of discomfort, you may be prescribed a prebiotic or probiotic supplement – sometimes both.
- One must increase prebiotic intake if one experiences, gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. In these cases, with a prebiotic supplement, you are providing the beneficial gut bacteria with nourishment so that they can get back to keeping the system running.
- Whereas, for more severe symptoms like acne, autoimmune issues, abdominal pain, etc., you may be prescribed a probiotic supplement. There is reason to believe that the number of beneficial bacteria has fallen and that needs to be replenished.
More often than not, prebiotics and probiotics go hand in hand to keep up with their biological tasks. So, keeping the bacteria alive and well is what we need to ensure. If you do suffer from gut-related distresses, speak to your doctor before you engage in a probiotic supplement as sometimes healthy people fall ill post probiotic intake (very rarely). If you want to keep gut distress at bay there are several OTC supplements available to you. Choose whichever suits you best. Some supplement brands like Probiology’s Gut+ even recognize the importance of both, prebiotics and probiotics, so taking supplements becomes easier.
The bottom line is that it isn’t a “prebiotics versus probiotics” debate at all. Both are important and critical to keeping the gut microbiota healthy which in turn keeps you healthy too.