In This Article
In This Article
Millions of microorganisms inhabit your gut. These include good and bad bacteria. The different microbes in your digestive tract make up your gut flora.
The gut microbiome plays an essential role in digestion. For example, they help break down complex sugars in fruits and vegetables.1
Gut bacteria also produce nutrients, including fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin K.2
Your gut microbiome or gut microbiota affects your overall health. With the help of prebiotics and probiotics, you can support the helpful bacteria in your gut.
“A healthy balance of good and bad bacteria can make the stomach, small intestines, and large intestines resistant to infection,” says Dr. Rizza Mira.
We asked Dr. Mira to help us explain the differences between prebiotics and prebiotics. She is a licensed medical doctor and an expert in diet and nutrition.
Prebiotics are special fibers that serve as your gut microbiome’s food. They promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut.3
“Essentially, prebiotics are carbs from food that the body can't digest. They can serve as nourishment for gut fungi and bacteria,” explains Dr. Mira.
Probiotics are live strains of good gut bacteria. They help maintain or boost their population in your digestive system.2
Both prebiotics and probiotics keep your gut microbiota healthy.
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Here are some food sources where you can get the most prebiotics:
Prebiotics are often fiber-rich foods. But there are other types of food that you can add to your diet. Among the most common are foods rich in inulin, pectin, and resistant starches.
Most prebiotics are rich in fiber. But not all dietary fibers are prebiotics.
Soluble fibers are the ones that support the beneficial bacteria in your gut. You can find them in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Inulin is a soluble fiber that naturally occurs in many plants. Dr. Mira says that inulin specifically induces the growth of Bifidobacteria – one of the most abundant species of good bacteria in the stomach.
Some sources of inulin are:
Inulin can help you avoid overeating by making you feel full for longer periods.
It can regulate your blood lipid levels and lower bad cholesterol. It also keeps your blood sugar levels under control and decreases your risk for diabetes.
Dr. Mira says you should be careful when eating inulin-rich foods:
“Some people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may experience worse symptoms from them. They should take these foods with caution."
Pectin is a gel-like starch mainly found in the pulp of raw apples. You can also get it from many fruits and vegetables, such as:
Pectin has antioxidant and anti-tumor qualities. It can lower your risk for several life-threatening diseases.
“Studies also support the role of pectin in relieving constipation, lowering cholesterol, and promoting healthy weight,” adds Dr. Mira.
Resistant starches are the non-digestible portion of starch. Like prebiotic fibers, they do not break down with digestion.
They can reach the colon undigested and become a food source for your gut microbiome. Resistant starches are found in:
When the digestive system breaks down resistant starches, it produces a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) called butyrate.
Butyrate helps your body absorb water and electrolytes. It also has anti-inflammatory effects, which can be good for your gut health.
Besides food, you can also get prebiotics from dietary supplements.
Prebiotics are sometimes added to probiotics and other digestive health supplements. But some only contain prebiotics.
Keep in mind: Added prebiotics are different from fiber supplements.
While dietary fibers can benefit your gut bacteria, they primarily aid bowel movement and help improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.
Prebiotics skip digestion and reach your colon so they can become food sources for your gut microbiome. Your gut microbes metabolize and ferment prebiotics to thrive.
As your microbiome digests and ferments food, they produce beneficial byproducts that promote gastrointestinal health.
“Many studies show that probiotics can be helpful for preventing colorectal cancer, boosting the immune system, and relieving symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s Disease,” Dr. Mira explains.
The many strains of microorganisms in your gut may use different prebiotics. So you may not have the same reaction from every prebiotic.
Here are a few health benefits of prebiotics we know about:4
Probiotic-rich foods carry live microorganisms that are good for your gut.
Some specific strains of bacteria and yeasts that give you a healthy gut are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii.
Dr. Mira says these are the most well-studied strains. "Products containing different species may not be as safe for consumption," she adds.
You can consume probiotics by eating fermented foods and taking supplements.
Probiotic foods are usually derived from meat, milk, and plant products. Examples are:
Probiotic supplements may contain multiple strains or a single strain of live bacteria. Most of which are ready-made blends you can buy off-the-counter.
You may also opt for a custom probiotics blend and have it personalized to your needs. These supplements are usually offered when you get an at-home test microbiome test.
After consuming probiotic-rich foods, the live bacteria must make it to your colon. The beneficial bacteria also need to survive and thrive in this environment.
Having some variety in bacteria gives you a diverse microbiome and a healthy gut. Research shows that probiotics have promising benefits for improving digestive health.
They can potentially treat or prevent diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and other gut problems.5
Both prebiotics and probiotics help good bacteria thrive in the human gut microbiota. These friendly bacteria offer many health benefits.
When it comes to digestion, they help break down food, absorb nutrients, and produce other byproducts that are essential to your overall health.
A diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics is the best and most natural way to keep the balance in your gut flora. So you must try to eat more of these gut-healthy foods.
However, you can also take prebiotic or probiotic supplements if you feel you’re not getting enough from dietary sources.
Whether you want to correct specific imbalances or are experiencing digestive symptoms, such as a leaky gut, talk to your doctor about taking prebiotics and probiotics.
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