If you have watched any television in the past six months you have most likely heard an advertisement, or two, or three, for prebiotics and/or probiotics. More often than not, these terms are used interchangeably, which is unfortunate as it confuses the consumer (you). Continue reading on to ensure you do not make the mistake so many do when it comes to misusing terminology. We are going to help ensure you know the difference and benefits of both probiotics and prebiotics.
The term probiotic comes from the Greek word pro, meaning promoting, and biotic, meaning life. Probiotics are live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast. They must be kept alive because they can be easily killed via heat or stomach acid. You already may be thinking, “Isn’t bacteria back for us?” After all, as a society we do take precautionary measures to avoid bacteria such as washing our hands, using hand sanitizer, and taking antibiotics when we are sick. So why would we want to ingest bacteria? Because, our digestive system contains many types of “good” bacteria and they are important for basic human functions within our body. For example, when we take antibiotics to overcome a common cold, the medicine does not know the difference between “good” and “bad” bacteria, both of which we need a good balance in our digestive tract. Therefore, the antibiotics wipe out all bacteria. Hence why there is a current scare in our nation of “antibiotic resistance” because we are killing good bacteria in our gut. To offset this action, you can eat items with natural probiotics to increase growth of the “good” bacteria back in to our gut.
For the most part, taking probiotics is safe to take and has few side effects. You can get them naturally by eating items (in moderation of course) such as:
- Miso soup
- Soft cheese (like Gouda)
- Sourdough bread
Overall, it is better to consume the nutrition sources of probiotics (and prebiotics) because you get additional nutritional benefits. A plus to eating the food form of nutrients is that they are more readily available for absorption and digestion. There are supplemental versions you can take, but as always, talk with your doctor before taking any pills to ensure they are safe for you and your health conditions.
Additional research is still needed to confirm exactly what probiotics help with. As of right now, there is promising evidence that probiotics could help:
- Prevent and/or treat:
o Vaginal yeast infections
o Urinary tract infections
o Eczema in children
- Prevent and/or reduce the severity of colds and flu
- Treat irritable bowel syndrome
- Treat diarrhea
- Reduce bladder cancer recurrence
- Speed treatment of certain intestinal infections
Prebiotics are a special form of dietary fiber. It is a natural, non-digestible item found in foods that are linked to promoting growth of “good” bacteria in your gut. Research is still in the works for prebiotics as well, but there is strong evidence that prebiotics could improve gastrointestinal (also referred to as GI) health and enhance calcium absorption.
The following are food items that contain natural sources of prebiotics (again, in moderation):
- Red Wine
- Maple Syrup
As a quick recap, probiotics are “good” bacteria found in foods that contain live bacteria, similar to the bacteria found in the gut. Foods that contain prebiotics feed the “good” bacteria that are already found in your digestive system. Both prebiotics and probiotics work synergistically together to restore and improve GI health. There is a lot of exciting research being done on bacteria in the gastrointestinal system. Keep your eyes open as scientists and doctors continue to reveal the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics.