If you’re not careful, it’s easy to confuse probiotics and prebiotics, since a single letter differentiates the two. But although they work together to maintain gut health, these two microbes differ greatly in purpose and structure. You can read our prebiotic foods guide to learn more. It is also important to learn about the top probiotic foods.
What Are Prebiotics?
While probiotics are active bacteria, prebiotics are not living organisms at all. Rather, prebiotics are carbohydrate plant fibers which act as “fuel” for probiotics. Unlike probiotics, which are alive and relatively fragile, prebiotics cannot die – they are impervious to stomach acid, heat, and cold. And while probiotics are meant to be digested, prebiotics are indigestible material that can remain in the body much longer.
- Some of the most common types of probiotics are:
- Inulin – found in more than 36,000 plants around the globe
- Oligofructose – also called fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
- Lactulose – a derivative of lactose, the disaccharide sugar found in dairy products
Why Are Prebiotics Important?
Because prebiotics cannot be absorbed or broken down by the body, they’re free to perform their most valuable function: to nourish probiotics. Much like lawn fertilizer helps grass grow, prebiotics stimulate the growth of probiotic bacteria in the colon and intestines. This process can produce positive results, helping to improve the lives of people in many ways.
Though scientists don’t know precisely how prebiotics and probiotics work to improve human health, some of the benefits associated with these gut microbes include:
- The prevention of symptoms related to intestinal distress
- The reduction of intensity of various digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal infections
- An increase in the absorption of important nutrients like calcium and magnesium (and perhaps iron), which in turn increases bone density
- A lowering of triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which helps promote heart health and reduces the odds of cardiovascular disease
- Assistance in controlling weight and regulating appetite, which can help prevent obesity 1
Benefits of Prebiotics: What Science Is Learning
Research into the advantages of prebiotics is still at a nascent stage, but there are already some encouraging findings being published in medical literature. A European review in the February 2015 edition of Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease revealed a correlation between the prebiotics inulin and oligofructose and a decrease in diarrhea-causing bacteria.2 And in a Brazilian study published in Frontiers in Immunology in 2011, researchers outlined a variety of potential prebiotic benefits. Among them: that they bolster the immune system and may help ward off disease and illness.3 There are even indications that prebiotics may be able to aid those who suffer from exercise-induced asthma.4
Moreover, microbiologists and other scientists are discovering evidence that prebiotics possess health-improving properties that we have yet to fully understand. A review published in Postgraduate Medical Journal cited the benefits of prebiotics in facilitating calcium intake, reducing constipation, and bolstering the immune system of elderly individuals.5 And, though the medical research is inconclusive at the moment, many scientists are hopeful that prebiotics will one day be used to remove cholesterol from the body, produce helpful strains of bacteriocin, and prevent serious and even life-threatening disease.6
Incorporating Prebiotics Into Your Health Regimen
So how can you reap the benefits of prebiotics? Fortunately, there is a wide variety of food where prebiotic microbes are found naturally. Below is a partial list:
|Burdock Root||Jerusalem Artichoke||Konjac Root||Rutabaga|
|Chicory Root||Dandelion Greens|
In addition, there are numerous prebiotic supplement products available on the market today (some of which contain both prebiotics and probiotics). If you do choose to take prebiotics as a supplement, the recommended dosage is four to six grams per day. It’s perfectly okay to divide the daily dose into two different amounts and take one both in the morning and the evening, and you can also combine them with probiotic supplements. There are no common side effects or contraindications associated with prebiotics, though daily dosages of 15 grams or more may cause diarrhea.
Again, there’s still a lot that scientists don’t know about the mechanisms and properties of prebiotics, such as how they affect different probiotic strains or what the ideal ratio is of prebiotics to probiotics in order to maximize specific health benefits. That’s why researchers are hard at work trying to unearth the mysteries behind these “microscopic superchargers” of healthy bacterial growth.
What is known is that countless people around the world are enjoying the advantages of excellent gut health due largely to the probiotic-nourishing powers of prebiotics. Are you ready to get yours?
For more on gut health, keep reading here:
1. Slavin, Joanne. “Fiber And Prebiotics: Mechanisms And Health Benefits”. N.p., 2013. Print.
2.”Microbial Ecology In Health And Disease: Vol 28, No 1″. Microbecolhealthdis.net. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
3.Vieira, Angélica T., Mauro M. Teixeira, and Flaviano S. Martins. “The Role Of Probiotics And Prebiotics In Inducing Gut Immunity”. N.p., 2013. Print.
4.Williams NC, et al. “A Prebiotic Galactooligosaccharide Mixture Reduces Severity Of Hyperpnoea-Induced Bronchoconstriction And Markers Of Airway Inflammation. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.
5. Hamilton-Miller, J M T. “Probiotics And Prebiotics In The Elderly”. N.p., 2017. Print.
6. Patel, Seema, and Arun Goyal. “The Current Trends And Future Perspectives Of Prebiotics Research: A Review”. N.p., 2012. Print.