Probiotics have been in the public eye for quite some time. These are live bacteria that live in your gut and control the growth of potentially harmful bacteria that can cause digestive problems or even weaken your immune system. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are food for probiotics. Here’s everything you need to know about prebiotic vs. probiotic and how they affect your body.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are living bacteria that your body needs to keep your digestive system healthy and happy. They can be found in yogurt, certain other dairy products, and even in supplement form. For several years, physicians have recommended a regimen of probiotics to patients taking certain antibiotics. As you may have experienced in the past, antibiotics can rarely tell the difference between “good” bacteria and “bad”, killing them all without prejudice. The result is often gas, bloating, and diarrhea – all caused by the lack of probiotics in your body.
There are numerous studies to suggest that a healthy population of probiotic bacteria can boost your immune system and ward off illness, as well. In the 2011 issue of Today’s Dietician, an article highlighted several clinical studies in which patients taking probiotics were affected far less by viral and bacterial infections than those who did not use probiotics. Another study published in the Annals of Surgery in 2006 found that patients who were prescribed probiotics after surgeries had better immune responses and were able to heal more quickly than those who did not take them.
When looking at prebiotics vs. probiotics, the best way to understand the difference is to think of prebiotics as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut. Simply put, prebiotics are carbohydrates that the human body cannot break down and digest. They’re like fertilizers for the probiotics that already live in your intestines. Prebiotics are not affected by heat or bacteria, and your body does not destroy them, so it’s incredibly easy to get your daily supply of prebiotics directly from your diet. Some of the best sources are raw garlic, onions, raw dandelion greens, and acacia gum, otherwise known as gum arabic.
Prebiotics allow probiotics to flourish, but there are also studies to suggest that people who consume prebiotics regularly – either in their food or via a supplement – have better mental health, too. A clinical trial conducted at the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychology gave 45 people with a variety of stress-related conditions prebiotics or placebos. Those who took prebiotics were less affected by negative information and more affected by positive information than those who took a placebo. They also had lower levels of cortisol, a powerful stress hormone that can cause physical and mental problems, in their saliva upon waking after a full night’s sleep.
Prebiotic vs. Probiotic – Do You need Both?
Instead of looking at it as prebiotic vs. probiotic, it’s more beneficial to consider them as a powerful team that works together to keep you healthy. It isn’t one against the other; it’s a matter of balancing both. Numerous companies manufacture products called symbiotics, which contain both prebiotics and probiotics. Although this is certainly an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough of both, you can also get them from the food you eat.
When considering prebiotic vs. probiotic food, it’s important to remember that prebiotics are carbohydrates while probiotics are live bacteria. You don’t have to eat both at the same time for them to benefit from one another. For many people, there’s no real need to supplement with probiotics every day unless they’re experiencing a gastrointestinal issue or taking antibiotics. However, it’s always a good idea to get a daily dose of prebiotics, even when otherwise healthy, to keep probiotic populations thriving.
The prebiotic vs. probiotic debate isn’t really a debate at all. Your body needs both to maintain a healthy digestive tract and immune system. While you don’t have to take a probiotic supplement daily if you’re otherwise healthy, prebiotics should be a regular part of your diet.