You may have come across the terms “probiotic and prebiotic” when talking about gut health. Other than sounding similar, these two terms relate to two very different things.
So if you are confused about which is which or about what either does for health, here is a quick introduction to both.
What are probiotics?
First off, probiotics are micro-organisms consumed in the diet that are known to offer certain benefits for the body. They are also known as good bacteria that are beneficial to digestive health in particular. They are found in certain foods like yogurt, fermented foods, miso, pickles and certain cheeses.
The important thing to know about probiotics is that these micro-organisms must be alive to offer any health benefits. Since these are alive organisms, you need to be sure that they will not pose a threat to your health.
When lacking in diet, probiotics can also be taken in supplemental form. Many people find this an easier option as supplements are ready to take as is and do not require any preparation.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics, in contrast, are different from probiotics. Prebiotics refer to food ingredients that help in promoting the growth and function of the normal flora of the body. They are mostly non-digestible fibre like compounds that remain in the gastrointestinal tract for long periods but pass undigested. During this duration, they promote the activity and growth of the micro-organisms that exist in the gut.
On reaching the colon, prebiotics become food for the good colon microbes where they are broken down and used as fuel.
Differences between Probiotics and Prebiotics
There are several differences between probiotics and prebiotics. One of them is that since probiotics are live organisms, they can be affected by heat, the strong acid in stomach secretions, or may just die with time. However, prebiotics are not affected by any of these factors.
Plus, prebiotics have been established to provide many health benefits to the person consuming them. On the other hand, probiotics are relatively new finds to gut health and the benefits are not very clear. It is only clear that they pose no threat to human health.
These differences do not mean that either of them is better than the other. They both aid in keeping the normal flora of the gut healthy, but they do so in different ways.
The mechanism or the exact benefit exerted by probiotics is not very clear but they have been proven to improve gastrointestinal health. The only major drawback of probiotics is that a very small portion of them make it from the mouth to the colon unchanged. This does not apply to prebiotics.
The main sources of prebiotics are many fruits and vegetables including onions, garlic, apples and bananas. However, these foods contain only very small quantities of prebiotics, so supplementation may be another way to go.
Both probiotics and prebiotics can be taken together since one does not interact negatively with the other.
I hope this article helped clarify the differences between both.