With the ever-growing interest in gut health and its impact on our overall well-being, it's no surprise that these two terms have become buzzwords in the world of nutrition and wellness. But what exactly are probiotics and prebiotics, and how do they differ from each other?
In this post, we'll discuss their unique functions, and explain how they work together to support optimal gut health and your immune system. We will also guide you on how to choose the right supplements and give you a list of the most common probiotic foods and prebiotic foods available on the market.
Probiotics are live microorganisms, often referred to as "good bacteria", that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. The primary function of probiotics is to help maintain a healthy balance of gut microbiota, which is essential for overall well-being.
Common foods that are naturally rich in probiotics include:
Prebiotics are non-digestible, naturally occurring carbohydrates that serve as nourishment for beneficial microorganisms, particularly the bacteria residing in our gut. In short, they are food for the probiotics present in our gut microbiome.
Common foods that are naturally rich in prebiotics include:
- Chicory root
- Jerusalem artichoke
What are the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics?
Probiotics and prebiotics are closely related components that work synergistically to promote a healthy gut microbiota. As a result, their benefits are very similar and we often talk about them as one.
Improved gut health: Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria to the gastrointestinal tract, whereas prebiotics serve as nourishment for these microbes. Together, they help maintain a diverse and balanced gut ecosystem, which is crucial for efficient digestion, nutrient absorption, and the prevention of gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and constipation.
Enhanced immune function: Both probiotics and prebiotics contribute to a robust immune system. Probiotics stimulate the production of antibodies and immune cells, while prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria that help maintain the gut barrier function. This results in better resistance against infections, reduced inflammation, and a lower risk of developing allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Gut-brain axis: The gut and the brain communicate through the gut-brain axis, which can be influenced by gut microbiota. Probiotics and prebiotics support a healthy gut environment, which in turn has been linked to improved mental health, including reduced anxiety, depression, and stress levels.
Metabolic health: Some probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to improve metabolism by regulating blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and cholesterol levels. This can lower the risk of developing metabolic disorders like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Production of bioactive compounds: Probiotics produce various bioactive compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and neurotransmitters. SCFAs have multiple health benefits, including providing energy for colon cells, reducing inflammation, and maintaining the gut barrier function. Neurotransmitters can influence mood, cognition, and overall brain function.
Protection against pathogens: Probiotics can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria by competing for resources, producing antimicrobial substances, and strengthening the gut barrier. This helps prevent infections caused by pathogenic bacteria.
Choosing the right supplement
Choosing the right supplement can be a daunting task, but there are five easy steps someone can take to ensure they are making the correct choice.
1) Determine your needs: Begin by identifying your specific health concerns or goals. If you are looking to improve your gut health, boost immunity, or address specific gastrointestinal issues such as IBS, a probiotic supplement might be the better choice. On the other hand, if you want to support the growth of your existing gut bacteria or enhance the effectiveness of a probiotic supplements, consider adding a prebiotic supplement to your regimen.
2) Consult a healthcare professional: It's essential to consult with a doctor, nutritionist, or pharmacist before starting any new supplement. They can help you determine which type of supplement is best suited for your individual needs and guide you on the appropriate dosage.
3) Choose reputable brands: Opt for supplements from well-established and trustworthy companies that provide clear labelling, product transparency, and quality assurance. Look for products that have been third-party tested for purity and potency.
4) Probiotic strains: When selecting a probiotic supplement, pay attention to the specific strains included. Different strains offer different health benefits. Look for products that contain well-researched and clinically proven strains, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, or Saccharomyces boulardii, among others.
5) Monitor your response: After starting a supplement, observe how your body reacts. Give it a few weeks to notice any changes in your digestion, bowel movements, and overall well-being. If you experience adverse effects or do not see the desired results, consult your healthcare professional for further guidance.
Combining probiotics and prebiotics
When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, they can enhance each other's effects and promote a balanced and diverse gut microbiota. The prebiotic component helps to nourish and stimulate the growth of the probiotic bacteria, ensuring their survival and activity in the gastrointestinal tract. This, in turn, can lead to improved digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function, among other health benefits.
Some products contain both probiotics and prebiotics, referred to as synbiotics. These supplements can be a convenient option if you want to enjoy the benefits of both components. However, ensure that the product contains well-researched strains and prebiotic fibres in adequate amounts.
Shopping for supplements?
Now that you know about the existence of "good bacteria" and how probiotics and prebiotics help your gut microbiome, it's time to shop for quality products.
At NourishMe Organics, we have a wide range of reputable brands of probiotic and prebiotic supplements, as well as fermentation kits to make fermented foods rich in probiotics, such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
So what are you waiting for? Order your prebiotic and probiotic supplements in Australia or visit us in store at 11/136 Keys Rd, Cheltenham VIC 3192.