One of the key ingredients to overall health is nutrition. How you nourish yourself supports normal bodily function and aids in development, aging, and the prevention of chronic disease. The effect of nutrients on the delicate ecosystem of the gut is often overlooked.
Discover the essential role of prebiotics and probiotics in maintaining optimal gut health and how they contribute to overall well-being. Prebiotics and probiotics are one pivotal way we can nourish and care for the gut and, in turn, reap the many benefits of maintaining balance within the body. Keep reading to learn what prebiotics and probiotics are, how they benefit the body and some answers to some frequently asked questions.
What are Prebiotics?
The lining of your gut is covered in trillions of microscopic organisms, mostly bacteria. Combined, all these organisms create what is called a microbiome, a micro-ecosystem. The health of the microbiome has a direct impact on the health of your body. A healthy microbiome is dependent on how you nourish and maintain the balance of the thousands of different species of bacteria living in the gut.
Prebiotics are specially designed plant fibers. These plant fibers encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut by acting like a fertilizer. Prebiotics are naturally occurring and can be found in many fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables that contain resistant starch and fiber are especially effective, as these complex carbohydrates don't digest but become food for the microbes and bacteria as they pass through the digestive system.
Prebiotic supplements on the market contain fiber and are even geared to address or help certain conditions. Certain products claim to enhance the growth of specific types of bacteria that could aid in weight management, bone health, and more.
What are Probiotics?
Like prebiotics, probiotics are both naturally occurring in food and available in the form of a food-grade health supplement. However, where prebiotics feed the microbiome in your gut, probiotics add to their numbers.
Probiotics are made mostly of live organisms, typically specific strains of good bacteria and yeast naturally occurring in the body. These live organisms are added to the existing population of healthy microbes in the gut. Slightly fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles are natural sources of probiotics.
Probiotics in the form of supplements come in two forms, powder, and liquid form. Typically these supplements would need to be refrigerated to be kept alive and allow them to reproduce. Two families of bacteria are generally thought of when referring to probiotic bacteria, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, and both families of bacteria are associated with probiotic formulas.
How do Prebiotics and Probiotics Benefit Your Health?
The primary purpose of prebiotics and probiotics is to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut to maintain balance. If there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut, it could lead to sickness. Stimulating the growth of good bacteria can help balance things out and bring the body into homeostasis. Good gut health supports the body's immune function and helps control inflammation.
Since prebiotics and probiotics help grow good bacteria by feeding them or adding to their numbers, it's important to know what good bacteria do for the body. Here are some benefits of prebiotics, probiotics, and good bacteria:
There is ample research currently supporting the theory that probiotics can help with certain conditions. Researchers are still working on definitive answers for the role that probiotics play in these conditions, but increasing your intake of probiotics could help with the following:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Yeast Infections
- Gum Disease
- Lactose Intolerance
- Urinary Tract Infection
Is it Good to Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together?
When prebiotics and probiotics are combined as a supplement, it's referred to as synbiotics. Combining the two allows the good bacteria in the gut to be more effective. Synbiotics are also naturally occurring and can be found in kefir, cheese, and specific types of yogurt.
Yes, it is good to take prebiotics and probiotics together. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics supports optimal gut health. It aids probiotic bacteria in surviving the trip to the gut and, ultimately, the intestine. Probiotics may be more effective when taken with prebiotics.
Research suggests that the combination of prebiotics and probiotics are effective for treating allergic disorders and the common cold, among other conditions listed. The combination has also been suggested in treating obesity and is being explored as a means to prevent cancer. Data continues to show promising results for synbiotics to fight disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Should You Take a Prebiotic or Probiotic?
The key to taking a prebiotic, probiotic, or combination is consistency. So, when you take them is determined by your schedule and whatever time you can do so daily. Choose a time you can stick to and make it a routine. Monitor your body and adjust according to your needs.
Who Should Not Take Prebiotics?
Most everyone can take prebiotics, probiotics, or a combination of the two. However, taking prebiotics is not recommended if you have Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or FODMAPs intolerance. Prebiotics may aggravate the overgrowth further by providing nutrients to the bacteria.
How Long Does it Take Prebiotics or Probiotics to Work?
Prebiotics and Probiotics need time to work and increase good bacteria in the gut to balance the bad bacteria and reduce inflammation. Typically, it takes 2 to 3 weeks to see significant changes in the body. Those changes include reduced bloating, improved sleep, mental clarity, better overall mood, and more.
Prebiotics and probiotics help the microbiome in your gut so the bacteria remain balanced, reducing inflammation and helping various conditions. Good gut health keeps your body in homeostasis and reduces the risk of chronic disease.