An Overview of Probiotics and Prebiotics
Let's take a quick peek at probiotics and prebiotics, how they protect your gut microbiome, and why you should add them to your diet.
Though we don't often think about it, our bodies are brimming with bacteria. Experts estimate that there are trillions of microorganisms in the average human body. While we often think of bacteria as something "bad" that we should eliminate, the truth is that we couldn't survive without it.
This is especially true when we talk about gut health. The microbiome in our gut helps us digest food and minimize inflammation.
If you've ever heard of prebiotics and probiotics, both trending buzzwords in the wellness industry, you might already know how far people will go to protect that microbiome. These helpful foods and supplements ensure the survival of the friendly bacteria we need. However, you may need to learn why or how they work.
Probiotics and Prebiotics: What Are They?
Both probiotics and prebiotics are great for your gut, but they work differently. Getting each of them into your diet as food or supplements can help your friendly gut bacteria thrive.
Probiotics are "good" bacteria in your gut. This includes many different strains of bacteria, though the most common types are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both of these probiotic types help you break down and digest the food you eat.
If you choose to take probiotics via dietary supplements, you'll find that the label includes information about the strain of bacteria included. Different bacteria strains can help with different health conditions, so researching the right probiotic for your needs is crucial.
Probiotics also exist in certain foods. Though you will only sometimes know what strain of bacteria you're eating, these foods can make adding probiotics easy. It also makes avoiding taking a supplement on an empty stomach easier.
Unlike probiotics, prebiotics don't contain bacteria. Instead, they're high-fiber carbohydrates that feed the microorganisms in your gut. Though you can find prebiotic supplements, you may not need them if you already eat enough of the types of food your gut bacteria thrives on.
Your body ferments prebiotic foods inside your colon. This slow process allows your body to break down these foods for essential nutrients.
Prebiotics are a helpful resource when you're trying to balance the makeup and function of bacteria in your microbiome.
How Your Diet Affects Your Gut Health
As you might expect, the types of foods you eat play a major role in your gut health. Every food you eat introduces new bacteria to your gut, which impacts the bacterial "community" inside it.
Too much of certain types of foods, such as harmful fats or simple sugars, can lead to a microbial imbalance. This can decrease the beneficial microbes in your body.
A diet rich in fermentable plant fibers and foods that fight inflammation, on the other hand, can promote the growth of "good" bacteria. These good types of bacteria can help protect our gut health.
This, in turn, can help our overall health. Research has linked gut health with our immune system regulation, with more diverse gut bacteria associated with better health overall.
Foods Rich in Probiotics and Prebiotics
If you hope to get more prebiotics and probiotics onto your plate, there are plenty to choose from.
Probiotics are more common in fermented foods. You can get them from the following sources:
- raw cheese
- apple cider vinegar
- traditional buttermilk
It's worth noting, however, that you would have to eat large quantities of probiotic foods to significantly impact your gut microbiome. This is why many people choose to take probiotic supplements: unless your diet already leans toward the foods above, eating fermented foods now and then won't make much of a difference beyond getting extra nutrients.
Prebiotic foods, on the other hand, come from indigestible plant fibers. While many plant-based foods contain some amount of prebiotics, there are a few foods that have more than others:
- wheat bran
- chicory root
- jicama root
- dandelion greens
Like all plant matter, prebiotic foods are best eaten raw when possible. Cooking them can reduce their nutritional content, though some cooking methods are less detrimental than others.
If you're hoping to eat more of the best foods for a healthy gut, combining the lists above can help. Eating yogurt with a banana or adding kimchi to stir-fried tempeh, for example, can ensure that you feed your gut biome precisely what it needs. This combination of pro- and prebiotics is called a "synbiotic," and you can also find synbiotic supplements that combine the best of both worlds.
Side Effects of Probiotics and Prebiotics
Both probiotics and prebiotics are safe for most people. Because they occur naturally in food and probiotics include bacteria that already exist in our gut, most people have no side effects after eating pro- or prebiotic-rich foods or supplements.
Sometimes, however, you may experience side effects as your gut microbiome gets used to the bacteria you add. The most common side effects include gas, bloating, constipation, and increased thirst. For most people, these side effects disappear after a few weeks.
In rare cases, your body can have an allergic reaction to the new bacteria you're introducing to your gut. The most common signs include stomach pain, redness, or hives. If you experience these side effects, contact a medical professional.
Protect Your Gut to Protect Your Health
Though most of us don't consider our gut health when putting food on our plates, the truth is that the right foods and supplements can be crucial. Getting more probiotics and prebiotics can help digestion, reduce inflammation, and more.
If you struggle to get enough of the healthy foods mentioned in your diet, consider supplements to encourage your friendly gut bacteria. We offer several types of probiotic, prebiotic, and synbiotic supplements that make it easy to support your digestive health, so be sure to take a look at our products!
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges including depression, auto-immune disorders, and being overweight that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
We encourage you to take advantage of these FREE Wellness Resources on our website.
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The information, knowledge, and experience shared on this website is the opinion of SupplementRelief.com. This site and its content is intended to enhance your knowledge base as YOU MAKE YOUR OWN HEALTHCARE DECISIONS in partnership with your qualified health professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products referred to are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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