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What's The Difference Between Prebiotics And Probiotics?

Managing A Balanced Digestive System

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on October 28, 2021

Prebiotics and probiotics are just some of the microorganisms that live in your digestive tract that help you maintain a healthy gut balance, and learning more about what these microorganisms are and how they work can help you get a better handle on your own digestive health.

Probiotics are known as the good bacteria that live in your gut, and these bacteria have plenty of great health benefits and important roles.

Probiotics work to:

  • Help protect your body against harmful bacteria
  • Regulate your immune system response
  • Strengthen and support the tissues in your digestive system
  • Aid your body’s digestion of food
  • Produce important vitamins, including riboflavin, vitamin K, and vitamin B12
  • Help your body absorb important minerals and nutrients
  • Help improve symptoms of certain digestive disorders
  • Help regulate your weight
  • Help improve your heart health

Prebiotics are often recommended to help support the probiotics in your body and help them to flourish. Gaining a better understanding of how this balance works in your body can help you learn ways of supporting the good bacteria in your body in order to experience the benefits.

While there are some food sources of probiotics and prebiotics, it may be difficult to get sufficient levels of these important nutrients from your diet alone, in which case it may be helpful to take a probiotic or prebiotic supplement.

You should always consult your doctor before you take a new supplement of any sort, as your doctor can help determine what would be best for your individual needs.

What Are Prebiotics and Probiotics? How Do They Differ?

Prebiotics and probiotics help maintain your overall health and wellbeing by supporting a balanced gut biome.

Prebiotics: What You Should Know

Prebiotics are a type of plant fiber that act as food for the beneficial bacteria in your digestive system. Prebiotic fibers do not get digested by your body, and they are instead fermented in your colon and converted into short-chain fatty acids.

This type of fatty acid works to help provide energy for the cells that line the walls of your gut, and these cells help protect your body against colon cancer and other diseases.

Prebiotics can have plenty of potential health benefits, including the following:

  • Increased and improved absorption of important minerals, such as calcium
  • Probiotic growth and reduction of potentially harmful bacteria in the gut
  • Increased feelings of fullness, which may help with weight loss or weight management

There are many food sources of prebiotics, and getting prebiotics straight from your diet is generally considered to be the best way to supply your body with this nutrient.

Prebiotics are found in the following types of foods:

  • Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Chicory root
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Bananas
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Whole wheat foods, such as breads and cereals
  • Oats
  • Soybeans

People with certain allergies or dietary restrictions may find it difficult to get enough prebiotics from food alone, in which case your doctor may recommend a prebiotic supplement.

However, it is always important to make sure you consult your doctor before taking a prebiotic supplement, because prebiotics may not be suitable for people with irritable bowel syndrome or other health conditions. Prebiotics may worsen certain symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea, in people with gastrointestinal conditions who may be particularly sensitive.

Your doctor will be able to help you determine whether or not prebiotic supplements might be a good idea for you, and if so they might be able to recommend certain products. If your doctor determines that prebiotic supplements are not suitable for your situation, they may recommend another treatment method.

Probiotics: An Overview

Probiotics are microorganisms that can offer a variety of health benefits when they are consumed, and they are considered some of the beneficial bacteria that live in your digestive system.

There are many different types of probiotics, and because each person has a different microbiome in their gut, not all people will respond the same to certain probiotics. In order to experience the greatest health benefits possible, it is typically recommended that you consume strains of probiotics that have been extensively studied.

Eating a variety of foods that are rich in probiotics may enhance the levels of good bacteria in your gut, which may work to provide essential vitamins, reduce your risk of developing certain diseases, and improve your overall health.

Probiotics can be found both in food sources and in supplements, and while supplements generally contain higher amounts of probiotics, getting your probiotics from food sources can allow you to simultaneously consume other nutrients and vitamins.

Dairy products are some of the best sources of probiotics, and examples include yogurt, sour cream, and cheese. Consuming dairy products in order to get your probiotics is considered to be one of the best ways to get probiotics. Dairy can protect the probiotics from high levels of acid in your stomach, which can lead to more probiotics reaching your intestine.

If you have food allergies or other dietary restrictions, it may be difficult to get probiotics from your diet alone, and it may be recommended that you take a probiotic supplement.

Just make sure you consult your doctor beforehand in order to determine whether or not probiotic supplements are right for you.

So, What’s the Difference?

Now that the basics have been outlined about both prebiotics and probiotics, it is important to understand exactly what the difference is. Essentially, the prebiotics you consume act as a fertilizer for the probiotics in your digestive system. Prebiotics work to stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, meaning that you need to eat enough prebiotics in order for the probiotics in your system to thrive.

Probiotics, on the other hand, are living microorganisms that reside in your digestive system and provide plenty of health benefits. There are many different strains of bacteria that may be included in probiotic supplements, and these bacteria add to the population of good bacteria in your gut.

You can obtain probiotics either from food or from supplements, and it is important to make sure you are getting enough probiotics to support a healthy digestive system.

Understanding Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplements

When it comes to finding the right prebiotic or probiotic supplement for your digestive health needs, it is important to keep in mind that there are plenty of different supplements to choose from, and the options available to you may all contain different probiotic strains.

This means that it can take some time in order to find the right probiotic supplement that brings you your desired results, and it might be a process of trial and error. If you need some help deciding where to start, your doctor may have some product recommendations to share with you, or at the very least, they can help you narrow down your options by steering you towards products with cleaner ingredients, or products that have a good reputation.

When you are taking supplements, it is always important to carefully follow the directions included on the label, and make sure you speak with your doctor or pharmacist if anything is unclear about proper usage or dosing.

The Bottom Line

Prebiotics and probiotics are two of the most important nutrients when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune response and digestive system, and getting enough of these two nutrients can help boost your digestive health and offer plenty of benefits for your health overall.

Probiotics help contribute to the population of beneficial bacteria in your gut, and these good bacteria work to support a healthy balance of different bacteria for optimal digestive health. Getting enough probiotics on a regular basis, either from your diet or from a supplement, can help ensure this balance is maintained.

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that does not get digested by your body, but which is instead fermented in your colon and turned into fatty acids. Prebiotics act as food for the probiotics in your body, which helps good bacteria thrive for a balanced gut ecosystem.



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