Understanding the difference between prebiotics and probiotics can be a pain in the guts, literally! Every body contains a balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. Probiotics refer to good bacteria that can be consumed to help the balance in our gut. The bad bacteria can cause disease, gastrointestinal upset and discomfort. Good gut bacteria has been shown to aid with weight loss, improve digestion, enhance immune function, help with healthy skin, and prevent some diseases. The colonisation of your gut bacteria is also called your “microflora” and is referred to as the “forgotten organ”. This is due to the microflora’s ability to manufacture vitamins, such as Vitamin K and some of the B vitamins. The microflora also stimulates the immune system and prevents unwanted substances from entering the body via the digestive system.
There are many different types of probiotics, known as “strains”. You’ll see all the different strains in a supplement by looking at the label. Different probiotic strains have been found to address different health conditions therefore choosing the right strain is essential. Most probiotics are labelled with the condition they are best suited to help with. Some supplements are known as “broad spectrum” probiotics and these combine a large number of strains in the same product. Broad spectrum probiotics are most suitable for general gut health over specific concerns. Probiotics can also be found in foods including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kimchi.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are certain types of carbohydrates (usually dietary fibres) that help to feed the good bacteria in our gut. By the time the prebiotics reach most of our good bacteria they are fermented which allows for better bowel function. Prebiotics make sure a probiotic has the right fuel to work optimally. Prebiotic fibre is found in foods such as garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, and artichokes.
Prebiotics can be used to help treat constipation in children and the elderly by increasing bowel motion frequency. Prebiotics also help with the absorption of calcium, leading to better maintenance of bone density. Prebiotics have been shown to reduce the risk of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes via their role in reducing insulin resistance - a condition strongly associated with Type 2 Diabetes and obesity.
So trust your gut and start adding some prebiotics and probiotics to your diet!