Probiotics are a popular supplement these days, and for good reason. It seems everywhere you turn, there is a new probiotic product, from probiotic enriched drinks and foods to face masks and even probiotic gum. While probiotics have been a beneficial supplement for a while, they have gained popularity in recent years. Therefore, there is still confusion around what to look for when taking care of your gut health. Many wonder,

  • What are probiotics and what do they do?
  • What’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
  • How do they work together?

…The questions are endless.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about probiotics vs prebiotics, what foods are rich in pre and probiotics and how to find trustworthy supplements.

There is often a lot of confusion about probiotics and prebiotics. Here’s a simple way to remember the difference between the two;

probiotics are your “friendly” gut bacteria, and

prebiotics are the food for your gut bacteria.

Are Prebiotics or Probiotics More Important?

The answer is that both are equally important. Although probiotics have become more well-known in recent years, you may be surprised to learn that prebiotics are just as important as probiotics; and taking a prebiotic alongside your probiotic will help you get the most out of your probiotic supplement. As you can see from the list of benefits below, probiotics and prebiotics support your body in very different ways:

Benefits of Probiotics:

•    Supports Healthy Digestion

•    Benefits The Immune System

•    Helps Crowd Out Bad Bacteria

•    Supports Healthy pH Level in the Gut

•    Produces Key Vitamins (like vitamin K and B vitamins), Short-Chain Fatty Acids (substances that support the intestines), and Enzymes

•    Restores Gut Barrier Integrity

•    Helps Support Diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Intestinal Inflammation

•    Helps Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

•    Helps Reduce Allergic Reactions 

Benefits of Prebiotics:

•    Growth of Healthy Gut Microbes in the Gut

•    Helps Reduce Counts of Unhealthy Microbes

•    Improves Absorption of Calcium and Magnesium

•    Reduces Inflammatory Markers like C-Reactive Protein

•    Supports Healthy Blood Sugar

•    Supports Healthy Cholesterol Balance Support

•    Improves Satiety

How Do Probiotics and Prebiotics Work Together?

Research suggests that the more diverse your gut bacteria, the better your health. Ideally, your gut is home to trillions of different probiotics as unique as your fingerprint. But certain factors, like stress and diet, can impact the numbers and makeup of bacteria. Think of it this way; your gut is like a garden; by taking probiotic supplements, you are essentially planting seeds and adding a prebiotic is like fertilizing your garden and helping it grow organically.

Types of Probiotics

Most probiotics live in your large intestine, but probiotics can be found in your mouth, nose and even on your skin. For example, probiotic strains B. BreveB. Longum and L. Reuteri can be found in your gastrointestinal tract, while L. Acidophilus is usually found in the small intestine and vagina. Probiotics in foods and supplements are measured in colony-forming units (CFU). Here is a list of foods that are rich in probiotics and are good to consume daily.

Probiotic Rich Foods:

•    Yogurt

•    Kefir

•    Sauerkraut

•    Kimchi

•    Miso

•    Kombucha

•    Pickles

Probiotic Foods vs Supplements

Although probiotics can be found in some foods, they are generally not present in high enough doses (CFU) and do not have enough of a spectrum of beneficial strains to provide the benefits we have listed above. Most health experts recommend that for the best benefits, you take a quality, highly absorbable form of probiotic supplement alongside probiotic-rich foods.

When beginning to take a probiotic, you may find that you have an increase in digestive complaints. Many report feeling bloating and excess gas. It is recommended that you start off with a lower dose and slowly work your way from 1 billion CFU to your recommended dose, paying attention to how you feel as you increase your dose.

Types of Prebiotics

Now, let’s get into prebiotics in a little more detail. Prebiotics are a type of fibre that your body cannot digest. Because these types of fibre are indigestible, they pass through your stomach into your gut where they become food for your gut bacteria and the probiotics you take. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are measured in milligrams or grams.

Plant foods naturally contain a wide spectrum of prebiotic fibres; here are the most common types of prebiotics that you will find in both supplement form and plant-based foods:

•    Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are one of the most common types of prebiotic fibres that you will see on the supplement shelves and can be found in bananas, artichokes, onions, and chicory, garlic, asparagus and yacon root.

•    Inulin is a class of dietary fibres called fructans. Inulin is produced by many types of plants, but most supplements are derived from chicory.

•    Beta-glucans are found in oats, barley, wheat, rye, seaweeds, reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms.

•    Psyllium, which is typically sold as a fibre supplement, comes from the husk of the plantago plant seeds.

•    Isomalto-oligosaccharide (IMO) is a type of fermented prebiotic fibre. You will find it listed this way on product labels and it is naturally occurring in miso, soy sauce and honey.

Prebiotic Rich Foods:

•    Mushrooms

•    Dandelion Greens

•    Chicory Root

•    Jerusalem Artichoke

•    Garlic

•    Asparagus

•    Bananas

Tips for Taking a Prebiotic

Supplementing with a combination formula of prebiotic fibres is good for feeding a range of bacteria which will garner more health benefits throughout your body. Like a probiotic, if you have never taken a prebiotic supplement before, start with half to one-third of the dose and gradually work up to tolerance. It doesn’t matter when you take your prebiotic supplement, as long as you take it consistently.

Taking Probiotics & Prebiotics Together

When probiotics and prebiotics are combined in your body, substances called postbiotics are produced. Postbiotics are nutrients that are left behind. They include: vitamins B and K; amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins; groups of amino acids, also known as antimicrobial peptides that help slow the growth of unhealthy bacteria; and short-chain fatty acids which restore your gut barrier and help your healthy gut bacteria thrive.

To conclude, both probiotics and prebiotics are equally important and provide different health benefits. You may want to take a prebiotic to support the growth of friendly gut bacteria, improve absorption of minerals, healthy blood sugar support and improve satiety. To gain the most benefits, it’s important to not only eat well, but also supplement with a high-quality probiotic and prebiotic supplement. Don’t forget, when you take both a prebiotic and probiotic, you create postbiotics, maximizing their benefits.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your practitioner prior to taking herbs or nutritional supplements.