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Probiotics Vs. Prebiotics!

Wednesday, 12 June 2019 01:10

“Probiotics” have  been a health and wellness buzzword for years. Most everyone is familiar with probiotics, even if they don’t know exactly what they do for the body.


More recently, discussion about the importance of prebiotics to the diet has increased. Not everyone is as familiar with prebiotics as they are with probiotics, and even less familiar with what they do, or how they relate to probiotics.


To begin, here’s a brief refresher on probiotics. These are actually living microorganisims: beneficial, helpful yeasts and bacteria that live in the human gut and help to break down and eliminate food waste and to keep the “gut” (a catch-all term for your digestive system) healthy and functioning optimally. Your digestive system includes everything from your mouth (where food first enters the body) to your intestines to your colon and beyond. Basically any and every part of your body that food or food waste passes through is part of this system.


Your gut actually plays host to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms (yeasts and bacteria). There are about 500 identified different species of these microorgansims. In other words, your gut is pretty much its own little ecosystem!


Like any ecosystem, balance is crucial. Different species work together to maintain an optimal atmosphere. Too much of one species can threaten the population or lead to an overgrowth of another species, and vice-versa. Entire ecosystems have been known to collapse due to such imbalances.


So it makes sense that your digestive system needs to maintain the right balance of microorganisms (often referred to as “gut flora”) in order to perform at its best. An imbalance of these microorganisms can cause a variety of problems, some subtle and others more serious, including difficulty losing weight, constipation or loose stools, changes in frequency of bowel movements, stomach/gut pain, lethargia, low energy or general feelings of unwellness. There is even believed to be a link between an imbalanced gut and allergies and acne. So it makes sense that probiotics are a crucial part of overall physical health.


So, what about prebiotics? What are they? Are they as important as probiotics?


What Are Prebiotics?


Unlike probiotics,  prebiotics are not living organisms. Rather, the term refers to elements that, when present, encourage and induce the growth of healthy probiotic organisms. They are to probiotics what soil is to plants in a garden.


In the body (particularly in the gut), prebiotics are typically non-digestible fibers found in some fruits, vegetables and other foods. This is one of the reasons it's important to maintain a diet that's rich in produce. This is also why an imbalanced diet can upset the ecosystem that is your gut.



 For the most part, the gut regulates itself as long as you maintain a healthy daily diet. However, aging can wreak havoc on the gut due to changes and fluctuations in hormone levels. An inadequate imbalanced diet can cause chronic gut problems. Additionally, if you ever get sick and need to take antibiotics, which are prescribed to kill the bacteria that caused the illness, unfortunately those antibiotics can also kill off good bacteria too, causing and imbalance.


Should I Be Taking Prebiotics and/or Probiotics?


First, prebiotics, or dietary fiber: Fiber is absolutely crucial to your daily diet. As previously mentioned, fiber can be found in fresh produce. You may not need to take a fiber supplement if you regularly eat the recommended daily intake of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.


The fiber that is found in produce is superior in quality to any fiber supplements in your local drug or health food store. It’s usually easier for your body to utilize optimally when it comes from fruits and vegetables. However, since many people are lacking in produce in their diets to one degree or another, fiber supplements can be useful in offsetting what might otherwise be lacking. Fiber supplements come in a variety of forms, from pills to capsules to powders that you add to liquids and drink.


As for probiotics, professional opinions are mixed and reserved. Some professionals suggest that not enough studies have been completed to offer conclusive evidence of the benefits of  taking probiotic supplements. This has a lot to do with the fact that probiotics come in many different forms, some of which are less effective than others. Additionally, probiotic supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it is possible that some probiotic supplements may not even work at all, or may be less effective than the manufacturer claims. Finally, it has been found that probiotic organisms are delicate, and some do not survive the process of being encapsulated into a supplement, meaning that a supplement label that claims to contain a certain number of probiotics may actually contain less because the probiotics are no longer living.


One thing professionals do agree on, as do I, when it comes to probiotics is that the best way to get the amount you need is through eating foods where they are naturally present.