Last month, ithriveX answered some Frequently Asked Questions related to probiotics. If you conduct a quick internet search for probiotic supplements, you will likely encounter the term “prebiotic.” It may look like a typo, but it’s actually an entirely different organism with its own purpose and traits! As a follow-up to our previous article, we’re going to define the terms “probiotic” and “prebiotic,” and explain the role each plays in keeping your body healthy and functioning smoothly.
As we covered in last’s month’s blog, probiotics are microorganisms that live in your digestive system. They are just one of the many lifeforms that make up your body’s supply of good bacteria. Yes, there is such a thing! Maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut is important because good bacteria can provide a variety of health benefits, including improving the immune system, counteracting symptoms of depression, facilitating weight loss, and creating fatty acids that protect your organs and defend against inflammation and the risk of cancer.
Probiotics work hard to keep your bacteria numbers balanced. They do this by attacking and breaking down bad bacteria. Probiotics occur naturally and can be found in a number of food products. Natural sources of probiotics include cultured foods like yogurt and fermented products like kimchi, kombucha, and kefir. Probiotics can also be isolated and cultured in a lab before being made into supplements.
Prebiotics serve an entirely different function. They are primarily a food source for probiotics and other good bacteria. After being consumed, prebiotics are not broken down during digestion. They pass through unscathed until they reach the part of your digestive tract where the good bacteria lives. Once the prebiotics arrive, the probiotics can turn them into nutrients. Prebiotics and probiotics are both a part of a microscopic food chain that keeps your digestive system healthy and functioning.
Prebiotics are easy to find in food products. Fiber-rich items like bananas and potatoes are chock-full of prebiotics. When you eat foods like these, your body processes the nutrients before sending the prebiotics on to be consumed by good bacteria. Other foods that contain prebiotics include legumes and beans, oats, berries, garlic, leeks, onions, and Jerusalem artichokes (not the same thing as common artichokes).
Ideally, probiotics and prebiotics do their jobs without you even having to think about it. However, some people struggle to keep a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria. There are several reasons why someone might have a less than healthy digestive tract. Common issues are not getting enough fiber or dealing with a chronic, gut-related illness. For people facing these problems, probiotic and prebiotic supplements can be a big help.
You can purchase probiotic and prebiotic supplements separately, but some brands sell products that contain both. These supplements rely on a symbiotic relationship, where the prebiotics feed the probiotics during transport, so they are still strong and healthy when you receive them. When considering what kind of supplement to buy, check for options include both pro- and prebiotics, and make sure to only use products that are approved by the FDA.