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Published on May 9, 2019

Prebiotic vs Probiotic: What’s the Difference and Why Are They Important?

Prebiotic vs Probiotic: What’s the Difference and Why Are They Important?

Many people find the prebiotic vs probiotic argument very confusing. They sound like they should be the same thing – but they’re not!

Each has a very different but very important function in the gut, and both should be consumed daily to maintain good digestive health.

Probiotic vs Prebiotic

What Are Probiotics?

To understand the difference, consider the prefix: PRO and PRE. The term “pro-biotics” literally translates as ‘for life’. That’s because probiotics help to promote good health!

The official definition of probiotics from the World Health Organization is:[1]

“live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.

This simply means that probiotic bacteria live in your gut, helping to break down food that you eat and helping your body to absorb nutrients and enzymes. Unsurprisingly, this supports overall health.

Things that disrupt your levels of good bacteria include age, genetics, certain medications, alcohol and diet. Dysbiosis results when pathogens and yeast overwhelm the good bacteria and spread throughout your intestinal tract. This has been linked to intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease.

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It’s easy to source probiotics from food or supplements. Probiotics are naturally present in foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and various pickled products. For convenience, you can also take probiotics in pill form.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics, on the other hand, means “before life” – because they are the food for your good bacteria!

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that humans can’t digest. They actually belong to a group of dietary fiber called oligosaccharides. This group of compounds is in many foods and includes a variety of different non-digestible forms such as fructo-oligosaccharides, inulin and polysaccharides.[2]

What this means is that prebiotics pass through your small intestine undigested and end up in the large colon, where they are fermented. This fermentation process is carried out the bacteria in your colon, which is why this prebiotic fiber is considered to be ‘food’ for these bacteria.

Essentially, prebiotics give your healthy bacteria the nourishment they need to thrive. This fermentation process is an excellent way to support the microbiome that exists in your digestive system.

In fact, it’s only in recent years that prebiotics were classified as ‘fiber’ – mainly because they behave in a similar way to other types of fiber. Researchers have found that prebiotic carbohydrates comprise mainly of fructans and galactans. Both of these are broken down (fermented) by the anaerobic bacteria in your large intestine.

Prebiotic fiber is easy to include in your diet. It’s available in many everyday foods such as garlic, onions, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, the skin of apples (also known as pectin), chicory root, beans, psyllium husk and legumes.[3]

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Eating these prebiotic-rich foods as often as possible is a great way to keep your intestinal tract healthy. Think of them as a kind of natural fertilizer for your good gut bacteria.

How Do Probiotics And Prebiotics Improve Your Gut Health?

Benefits of Probiotics

Simply put, probiotics are the ‘good’ bacteria living in your gut. They support your health in a variety of ways:

  • Breaking down and digesting food
  • Supporting overall gut health
  • Maintaining the health of your immune system

Probiotics also play a role in how you think and feel. Gut bacteria have an influence on the production and regulation of hormones, such as insulin and leptin. They’ve also been found to produce neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which are responsible for your mood.[4]

Probiotics support digestion, promote healthy bowel transit time, and help to reduce diarrhea. They can also help improve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease (an autoimmune disease), urinary tract infections, and other chronic health conditions.

Boosting the immune system is another major benefit of probiotics. A healthy gut microbiome helps to protect you from bad bacteria, particularly Candida yeast, fungi, and viruses. Research has found that the strains Streptococcus thermophilus[5] and Lactobacillus acidophilus protected against infection with E. coli.[6]

Other research has shown that women taking Lactobacillus have a lower risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

As for boosting mental health, it’s been found that gut bacteria is directly connected to your brain. This is why the gut is sometimes referred to the ‘second brain’ and probiotics are now being used to improve mental health disorders.

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Certain strains of Probiotics are shown to help reduce anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even memory issues.[7] Some of the most effective strains for mental health include Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium infantis, Lactobacillus helveticus, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.[8]

Probiotics can also reduce the severity and duration of infectious diarrhea, and diarrhea associated with antibiotic use. Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii were found to be most effective.[9]

Here are 12 probiotic-rich foods that you might want to add to your diet:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Kvass
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Natto
  • Miso
  • Sourdough Bread

Benefits of Prebiotics

Although taking probiotic supplements and eating fermented foods is very important for your gut health, prebiotics are just as valuable.

Prebiotics can boost the health benefits of probiotics by allowing them to flourish. Combining prebiotics with your probiotic intake can help to improve your gut health in many ways.

As prebiotics move through your gastrointestinal tract, they aren’t broken down by your gastric acids or digestive enzymes like other foods. They instead become sources of fuel and nutrients for the beneficial bacteria living in your gut.

Research shows that prebiotics play an important part in maintaining the overall balance and diversity of your intestinal bacteria. In particular, they help to increase numbers of ‘friendly’ bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.

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Adding more prebiotic fiber to your diet has been found to provide a range of benefits. Because your microbiome is able to use the prebiotic fibers to survive and produce short-chain fatty acids, your body can then use some of these fatty acids to repair improve the lining of the gut. This can reduce the risk of leaky gut syndrome, Candida overgrowth, IBS and other gut problems.[10]

Here are some prebiotic-rich foods that you might want to add to your diet:

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Chicory
  • Garlic
  • Dandelion greens
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Kiwifruit
  • Legumes (chickpeas, beans)
  • Leeks
  • Onions

Conclusion

You should now understand the prebiotic vs. probiotic issue.

Just remember that your body is full of bacteria: good and bad. The good kind include probiotics, while the harmful kind can include pathogens and various yeasts. Good health comes from keeping the two in balance: that is, more good than bad.

This is best done by including plenty of live probiotics in your diet – either through food or supplements – and by feeding those probiotics with the nutrients they need to survive: prebiotics.

Together, prebiotics and probiotics can help to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and improve cholesterol levels. Your digestion will be enhanced due to the efficiency of bacteria in breaking down food you eat, which in turn can reduce symptoms such as bloating and gas.

You’ll also be obtaining more nutrients from your diet, which can go a long way in supporting energy levels and vitality.

The health of your gut is closely linked to many other bodily functions. By consuming both prebiotics and probiotics together, you can maintain optimal health – inside and out!

Featured photo credit: Brenda Godinez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Lisa Richards

Nutritionist, Creator of The Candida Diet, Owner of TheCandidaDiet.com

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Last Updated on January 3, 2020

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

Are you waiting for life events to turn out the way you want so that you can feel more positive about your life? Do you find yourself having pre-conditions to your sense of well-being, thinking that certain things must happen for you to be happier? Do you think there is no way that your life stresses can make you anything other than “stressed out” and that other people just don’t understand?  If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you might find yourself lingering in the land of negativity for too long!

The following are some tips to keep positive no matter what comes your way. This post will help you stop looking for what psychologists call “positivity” in all the wrong places!  Here are the ten essential habits of positive people.

1. Positive people don’t confuse quitting with letting go.

Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for them, they trust their judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives.  Especially in terms of relationships, they subscribe to The Relationship Prayer which goes:

 I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … 

To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … 

And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!

 2.  Positive people don’t just have a good day – they make a good day.

Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Rather, they use strong words that are pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement, while positive people get very involved in constructing their lives. They work to make changes to feel better in tough times rather than wish their feelings away.

3. For the positive person, the past stays in the past.

Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. They don’t spend much time pining for the good ol’ days because they are too busy making new memories now. The negative pulls from the past are used not for self-flagellation or unproductive regret, but rather productive regret where they use lessons learned as stepping stones towards a better future.

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4. Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person.

The most positive people are the most grateful people.  They do not focus on the potholes of their lives.  They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences.  They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.

5. Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities.

Optimistic people focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.  They are not fooled to think that there is a perfect solution to every problem, and are confident that there are many solutions and possibilities.  They are not afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin their wheels expecting things to be different this time.  They refuse to be like Charlie Brown expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football from him!

6. Positive people do not let their fears interfere with their lives!

Positive people have observed that those who are defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life. While proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things. They realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life. They have confidence that they can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, due to a strong belief in their personal resilience.

7. Positive people smile a lot!

When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and these smiles are contagious. Furthermore, the more others are with positive people, the more they tend to smile too! They see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humor even when it is about themselves. Positive people have a high degree of self-respect, but refuse to take themselves too seriously!

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8. People who are positive are great communicators.

They realize that assertive, confident communication is the only way to connect with others in everyday life.  They avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and do not let someone else’s blow up give them a reason to react in kind. Rather, they express themselves with tact and finesse.  They also refuse to be non-assertive and let people push them around. They refuse to own problems that belong to someone else.

9. Positive people realize that if you live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness.

One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time.  Being sad, angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life. How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions? Positive people do not run from the gamut of emotions, and accept that part of the healing process is to allow themselves to experience all types of feelings, not only the happy ones. A positive person always holds the hope that there is light at the end of the darkness.  

10. Positive person are empowered people – they refuse to blame others and are not victims in life.

Positive people seek the help and support of others who are supportive and safe.They limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner, even if it comes to legal action and physical estrangement such as in the case of abuse. They have identified their own basic human rights, and they respect themselves too much to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

How about you?  How many habits of positive people do you personally find in yourself?  If you lack even a few of these 10 essential habits, you might find that the expected treasure at the end of the rainbow was not all that it was cracked up to be. How could it — if you keep on bringing a negative attitude around?

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I wish you well in keeping positive, because as we all know, there is certainly nothing positive about being negative!

Featured photo credit: Janaína Castelo Branco via flickr.com

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