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Prebiotics vs Probiotics | Can you take them both?

Probiotics vs Prebiotics



Probiotics are essentially live microorganisms promoted as having various health benefits. They are usually added to yogurts or taken as food supplemented and are often described as “good” or “friendly” bacteria.

Probiotics are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut (including your stomach and intestines) when it’s been disrupted by an illness or treatment.

There is some evidence that probiotics may be helpful in some cases, such as helping prevent diarrhoea when taking antibiotics and helping to ease some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but as of now, there is little evidence to support many health claims made, this is an area that needs further study.

For example, there is no evidence to suggest that probiotics can help treat eczema. But for most people, probiotics appear to be safe. If you want to try them and you have a healthy immune system, they shouldn’t cause any unpleasant side effects.

The History of Probiotics

The concept behind probiotics was introduced in the early 20th century, when Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff, known as the “father of probiotics” proposed that consuming beneficial microorganisms could improve people’s health.

Researchers continued to investigate this idea and the term “probiotics” meaning “for life” eventually came into use.

What Kinds of Microorganisms are in Probiotics?

Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms. The most common people associate with health benefits are bacteria that belong to either the group Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Other bacteria may also used as probiotics and so may yeasts such as Saccharomyces boulardii.

How do They Work?

Research is being done and more still needs to be done on how exactly these microorganisms work and what positive impacts they may have on health. Some of the ways they may keep you healthy:

  • When you lose “good” bacteria in your body, for example after you take antibiotics, probiotics can help replace them.
  • They can help balance your “good” and “bad” bacteria to keep your body working the way it should.


Types of Probiotics

Many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics. They all have different benefits, but most come from two groups. Ask your doctor about which might best help you.



This may be the most common probiotic. It’s the one you will find in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can help with diarrhoea and may help people who can’t digest lactose, the sugar in milk.



This is most commonly associated with dairy products and its main claim to fame is being beneficial to IBS symptoms.

Saccharomyces boulardii is a commonly occurring yeast found in probiotics. It is believed to aid in the fight against diarrhoea and  some other digestive problems.

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What Do Probiotics Do?

Probiotic pills

Among other things, probiotics help send food through your gut by affecting nerves that control gut movement. Researcher are still trying to figure out which are best for certain health problems. Some common conditions they treat are:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Infectious diarrhoea (caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites)
  • Diarrhoea caused by antibiotics


Impact on Digestive Health

Strong evidence suggests that probiotic supplements can help cure antibiotic associated diarrhoea.

When people take antibiotics, especially for long periods of time, they often experience diarrhoea even long after the infection has been eradicated.

This is because the antibiotics kill many of the natural bacteria in your gut, which shifts gut balance and allows harmful bacteria to thrive.

Probiotics also combat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder, reducing gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and other symptoms.

Some studies also note benefits against inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

What’s more, probiotics may fight Helicobacter pylori infections, which are one of the main drivers of ulcers and stomach cancer.

If you currently have digestive problems that you can not seem to vanquish, a probiotic supplement may be something to consider, though you should consider consulting with your doctor first.


Impact on Weight Loss

Prebiotic weight loss

Interesting strides in research have been made within the studies about obesity. There has been some evidence that people’s gut bacteria varies, but evidence shows a significant difference in leaner people compared to other people.

 One area being looked at is in fecal animal studies with some positive results in areas of weight loss. This has led many scientists to start looking at your gut bacteria as a possible determinant in body weight.


Conversely, some animal studies demonstrate that other probiotic strains could lead to weight gain, not loss.


Other Health Benefits

There are many other benefits of probiotics. They affect:


  • Inflammation: Probiotics are thought to help reduce systemic inflammation which can impact overall health of the body.
  • Depression and anxiety: The probiotic strains Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum have shown significant benefits in reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression in people diagnosed with clinical depression.
  • Blood cholesterol: Several probiotics have been shown to lower total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Blood pressure: Some evidence shows that there is some limited impact on blood pressure.
  • Immune function: Several probiotic strains may enhance immune function, possibility leading to a reduced risk of infections, including for the common cold.
  • Skin health: More research needs to be done in the area of integumentary health.  Some evidence and anecdotal evidence exists showing probiotics being potentially beneficial for conditions such as  acne, rosacea and eczema, and possibly some other skin disorders.



How to Use Them Safely

As with any supplement, you should always consult with your doctor if taking probiotics is a good idea for you. In general, probiotic foods and supplements are thought to be safe for most people, though some people with immune system problems or other serious health conditions should not take them.

In some cases, mild side effects might include an upset stomach, diarrhoea, gas and bloating for the first couple of days after you start taking them.

They may also trigger allergic reactions. Stop taking them and talk to your doctor if you have problems.



Probiotics vs Prebiotics

Prebiotics are classified as the non-digestible food ingredients that probiotics can feed off.

Good bacteria play a significant role in regulating your immune system, inhibiting the growth of pathogens (decrease causing bacteria) and digesting food.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) are the most advanced form of prebiotics which belong to a group of nutrient fibres that feed and encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut.

Prebiotics are also present in mother’s milk. These human milk oligosaccharides are thought to enhance the population of bifidobacterial present in the infant gut as well as discourage pathogens that may cause infections in infants. Many brands of infant oligosaccharide prebiotics to mimic this effect.

You will also find prebiotics in some pet foods, both in the kibble and as pill-like supplements. Again, they are added to enhance the growth of healthy gut bacteria in your pet’s microbiome.

Although there are more studies published to date on probiotics than prebiotics, prebiotic research is expanding. Established health benefits of some specific prebiotics relate to:

  • Improving calcium absorption
  • Modifying the glycemic index
  • Enhancing colonic bacterial fermentation thereby reducing gut transit time.

Many physiological health benefits are starting to gain recognition.

In fact, the European Food Safety Authority in positive opinion statements recently acknowledged that increased consumption of native chicory inulin can increase stool frequency” and that “consumption of foods containing non-digestible carbohydrates instead of sugars (such as inulin and FOS) induces a lower blood glucose rise after meals compared to those containing sugars”.

New research is investigating how prebiotics might be used in the management of gut diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) and irritable bowel syndrome and even obesity.

In the future, specific prebiotics could be designed known to be less abundant in certain diseases.

There is considerable potential for prebiotics to feed probiotics, but few studies have actively demonstrated this.

The combination of prebiotic and probiotic must be carefully considered if the goal is to enhance probiotic growth with the co-administered prebiotic.

Laboratory studies are not always accurate in determining if the probiotic bacterium can utilize the prebiotic substrate when competition with the diverse resident gut microbiota is considered. More research is required to demonstrate these effects properly.

Dietary fibre can be split into two categories, soluble fibre which is fermented and acts as roughage. Although prebiotics fit the chemical definition of a soluble fibre, not all fibres are prebiotics, because they are not all metabolised by beneficial gut microbes.


Source of Prebiotics

The major source of prebiotics is dietary fibre. Prebiotics occur naturally but are also available through supplementation.

While prebiotics are fibres, not all fibres are prebiotics. The common forms of dietary fibre present in most plant-based foods and grains are less selectively fermented by the bacteria in the gut and lack some of the health benefits demonstrated by prebiotics. However, they are still of benefit to our health benefits demonstrated by prebiotics. However, they are still of benefits to our health and their consumption is to be encouraged as they help maintain regular toilet habits as well as promoting the health of the gut itself.


Prebiotic Foods

It is possible to get prebiotics through the diet, but the benefits from ingesting enough to actually reach the gut bacteria is challenging and this is one reason people are supplementing prebiotics.


Prebiotic Supplements

Prebiotics supplements can be taken regularly to help increase and drive the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic supplements essential function is to get enough fermentable fibre to the beneficial bacteria. It’s important to note that not all prebiotics are the same and some are more targeted in the type of bacteria they feed.


Advantages of Taking Prebiotics

One of the biggest advantages of prebiotic supplements is that they are highly stable, being unaffected either by temperature or long-term storage.

Prebiotics are also resistant to the body’s enzymes and gastric acids, which means that they are not destroyed, digested or absorbed unlike many probiotics. Prebiotics reach the colon intact and unaltered.


Are there any Side-effects using Prebiotics?

The most common side-effects of prebiotics are abdominal bloating and discomfort, occurring when large doses are consumed.

This can be reduced by decreasing the dosage which should not exceed the recommended dosage, but this also may be to high depending on the individual.


If you are taking a supplement its important to adhere to the recommended dosages of any product. More is not always better.


Prebiotics and Sleep

New research suggests that the secret to a good night’s sleep may lie in the gut. One study from the University of Colorado Boulder focuses on sleep and prebiotics.  More research is needed in this area but it is one more interesting aspect that shows the connection of the gut and the brain.


Impact on Weight Loss

Prebiotics are one of the best weight loss trends and is only protein bar that uses prebiotic fibre. Prebiotic are better than probiotics when it comes to weight loss and burning abdominal fat, according to researchers.

Prebiotic fibre may help prevent intestinal fat absorption and could be an effective weight loss tool.

“Normally we digest all the food and absorb all the calories”, said study researcher Peter jones of the University for Manitoba in Canada. “We think the prebiotic fibre interfered with the absorption of those calories, so that more calories went out the tailpipe and there were fewer calories to pack on abdominal fat.”


Probiotics vs Prebiotics

The names may sound almost the same, but there is a big difference in the way they work in your body. For optimal health, make sure you understand probiotics vs prebiotics.

In our society today, healthy living seems to be at the forefront of almost everyone’s mind. New recipes for clean eating are traded daily and social media platforms are advertisements for new vitamins and products that promote a healthy diet, and, in many ways, this is good.

We should be more mindful of what we consume. Even if you grab a burger at the drive through or prefer real pasta to spaghetti squash, you are aware that healthy eating habits are important.

Depending on what we eat, we can feel the difference in our energy levels, our clarity of thought, and let’s face it, our bowel movements.

That’s because if our gut is healthy, we are healthy! In fact, our gut is filled with bacteria, both good and bad, that influences both our digestive system and immune system.

Bad bacteria forms because of a high-sugar and high-fat diet. The more bad bacteria forms, the harder it is for our body to fight off illnesses.

Therefore, it’s important eat the right amounts of probiotics and prebiotics.

Prebiotics are food, or nourishment, for the good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics, on the other hand, “are bacteria and yeast to absorb and digest nutrients, as well as build a healthy immune system, including the ability to fight infection.”


Why Probiotics are Important?

People who don’t regularly struggle with gut issues can still benefit from probiotics and you do not have to take a pill.

A specialist says,

Start with yogurt and kefir, which have lived and active cultures, are minimally processed, and can be included in most diets”.

He says,

I also encourage people to eat more prebiotic foods, which have different types of dietary fibre that feed the good bacteria in your body”. What does he recommend? “Some fantastic sources are onions, garlic, all fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.


Which Foods are Probiotic?

Fermented foods are another great option as they contain beneficial bacteria that thrive on the naturally occurring sugar or fibre in the food.

Examples of fermented foods include:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Kefir
  • Some types of pickles
  • Other pickled vegetables

If you are going to eat fermented foods check that they are not pasteurized because it would impact their probiotic benefits.

Some of these foods can also be considered symbiotic, because they contain both beneficial bacteria and a prebiotic source of fibre for the bacteria to feed on.

One example of a symbiotic food is sauerkraut.


Which Foods are Prebiotic?

prebiotic vegetables

Prebiotics are types of fibre found in vegetables, fruits and legumes. These types of fibre are not digestible by humans, but your good gut bacteria can digest them.

Foods that are high in prebiotic fibre include:

  • Legumes, beans and peas
  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Barriers
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Dandelion greens
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onions

One of the things your good gut bacteria do with prebiotic fibre in turn it into a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate.

Butyrate has been shown to impact anti-inflammatory effects inside the colon. This needs further investigation on effects on cells, colon health, and cancer.


Feeding your gut bacteria with Prebiotics

Here is one way to think about probiotics vs prebiotics: “I think of taking probiotics as the equivalent of restocking a pond with fish.

Taking prebiotics, by contrast, is like nourishing and supporting the fish that are already in the pond,” says Raphael Kellman, MD, author of The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss.


How Probiotics and Prebiotics Affect You?

The old saying, “You are what you eat” is true. That’s why it’s important to avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar, and cholesterol while getting the probiotics and prebiotics your body requires.

Your gut flora influences your weight, your risk for heart disease, your immune system, your brain, your mood, and behaviour.

You need both probiotics and prebiotics. It’s synergistic relationship. Without prebiotics as fuel, probiotic would starve, leaving you open to a host of problems, such as leaky gut, a compromised immune system, and constipation immune system, and constipation.


Probiotic Benefits

Some of the health benefits that science is discovering about probiotics include:

  • Improving gut health: Probiotics are known to be good for your digestion, your ability to stay regular, and reducing diarrhoea. A healthy digestive system will help minimize gas and bloating. Probiotics may be able to help improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, urinary tract infections, and other health conditions.
  • Improving the immune system: Probiotics have been shown to boost your immune system against various invaders.
  • Preventing and treating diarrhoea: A 2010 study published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that probiotics can reduce the severity and duration of infectious diarrhoea.
  • Boosting mental health: Your gut is sometimes called your “second brain” and its balance of bacteria directly affects your mental health. In both animal and human studies, some strains of probiotics have been found to improve psychological conditions.
  • Lowering blood pressure: A 2014 review of nine studies published in the journal Hypertension found that probiotics may help to reduce blood pressure. Multiple strains of probiotics were the most beneficial when consumed daily over eight weeks or more.
  • Losing weight: In a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, women on a diet who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus


Prebiotics Benefits

Other than serving as nutrition for probiotics, supporting your gut health, and enhancing your immune system, prebiotics have additional benefits when you consume them.

Some of the health benefits of prebiotics include:

  • Enhancing mineral absorption, potential anti-cancer properties, anti-inflammatory, and other immune-assisting effects: A 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology reported on these findings.
  • Encouraging normal blood sugar levels: A 2013 study published in the journal Endocrine Practice
  • Aiding weight loss: A 2002 study published in The British Journal of Nutrition – focus on prebiotic foods
  • Boosting bone health: A 2007 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that prebiotics enhance the absorption of minerals


The Bottom line

Prebiotics and probiotics work together in the body.

The gut is so intricately connected to all our body systems, especially the brain, that we do not even know all the implications of this yet and its impacts.

If we diet, take supplements, and endlessly chase feeling better and living better it is clear a very easy and important first step is getting our body in balance and functioning at its optimal level and while we may need more research on probiotics and prebiotics, what is known makes it clear that they are an important part of health and worth the effort.

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