Probiotic vs Prebiotic

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The words ‘probiotics’ and ‘prebiotics’ may look and sound similar but they’re not the same thing. They are however both beneficial for your body.

What are probiotics and what do they do?

Probiotics upset the normal balance of gut flora are types of live beneficial bacteria similar to those that reside in the lower digestive tract (bowels) such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis. They’re found in some foods also including yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir1 as well as nutritional supplements.

Probiotics have the ability to support the healthy balance of bacteria in the gut and may therefore influence digestive and general health. These beneficial bacteria provide many important functions for the body including:

  • Help protect against illness-causing microorganisms
  • Synthesize certain vitamins
  • Contribute to normal immune function
  • Support the health of the digestive system

A growing body of evidence suggests that the potential of these bacterial strains may go even further than these established roles.1 Probiotics may be especially beneficial after a course of antibiotics, which can upset the normal balance of gut flora. They can also help relieve digestive problems such as gas, bloating and flatulence.

What are prebiotics and what do they do?

Prebiotics are essentially ‘food’ for the good bacteria in the digestive tract. They’re types of carbohydrates found in fibrous foods that cannot be digested but can be fermented by gut bacteria. This fermentation process helps the bacteria in the bowels to grow and thrive, and also produces short chain fatty acids, which support the health of digestive tissue linings. By providing the bacteria with the fuel they need, prebiotics may influence the health of the digestive system and assist in the maintenance of general wellbeing.

The technical names for the carbohydrates with prebiotic effects include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides. These are found in various foods such as leeks, asparagus, artichokes, garlic, chicory root, onions, wheat, soybeans and bananas.1 They’re also available in supplement form.

Can you take prebiotics and probiotics together?

Ultimately, prebiotics and probiotics work synergistically, therefore ensuring you consume both through the diet or supplementation is one of the keys to good gut health. When probiotics and prebiotics are combined they’re known as a ‘synbiotic’, which can occur in some foods or in supplements. This dynamic combination helps replenish the good bacteria your body needs as well as give it the fuel it needs to thrive.

If you’re taking a probiotic to support your general health or following a course of antibiotics, taking a prebiotic also, may maximize its efforts.

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Published February 25, 2015
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