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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 November 12, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (and What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (and What to Do About It)

If you find that you’re feeling tired all the time, it’s important to understand that it’s a common problem for many. With all of the demands of daily life, being tired seems to be the new baseline. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling exhausted, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re so tired and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • Trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired.
  • Experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not.
  • Dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • Finding it more difficult to exercise.
  • Immune system may weaken, causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • Overeating because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids, even when you’re not hungry.
  • Metabolism slows down, so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Why Are You Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each common cause of fatigue and feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep, restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness, which could be triggered by numerous health problems, such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea, or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance, or emotional trauma. It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

You can learn more about some causes of fatigue in this video:

Feeling Tired Vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

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Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep. However, fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety, or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive[5].

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness, but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. However, there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation, which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Research suggests that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night[6]. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

Get the right amount of sleep to stop feeling tired.

    The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

    Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

    Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[7]

    If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is the most likely reason you feel tired all the time. That is actually good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

    It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities, such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

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    4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

    Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

    1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
    2. Exercising regularly
    3. Using stressbusters
    4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

    After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

    I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

    Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

    • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy, including getting enough sleep.
    • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day, ideally for six days a week.
    • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
    • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

    The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight, and to achieve overall wellness.[8]

    Living Healthy

    Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested, and better overall.

    In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger. In fact, long-term sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase in Alzheimer’s later in life[9].

    As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

    Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

    1. Unplug

    Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. However, tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime. This won’t help you stop feeling tired all the time.

    Try to turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

    2. Unwind

    Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating, or taking an Epsom salt bath.

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    3. Get Comfortable

    Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

    Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep. Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

    Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed. If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[10]

    This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

    Exercise

    Many people know that exercise is good for them, but they just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

    That’s what happened in my case, but when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my sedentary lifestyle.

    I decided to start swimming because it was something I had always loved to do. Find an exercise you love and stick to it to stop feeling tired all the time. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training, and flexibility training during your daily 20-minute workout.

    If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try as it will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

    Attitude

    Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

    When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted, but there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued: Breathing.

    But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” (or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

    Here’s how you do Long-Exhale Breathing:

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    1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy.
    2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air).
    3. Hold your breath while you mentally count to 7 and enjoy the stillness.
    4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it).
    5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep breath.
    6. Repeat 3 times, ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system.

    This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

    When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[11]

    Nutrition

    Diet is vital for beating fatigue if you’re feeling tired all the time – after all, food is your main source of energy.

    If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels, which may lead to daytime sleepiness.

    Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming though. For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

    Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

    1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
    2. Add a healthy fat or protein to any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed.
    3. Fill up with fiber, especially green leafy vegetables.
    4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice, and corn.
    5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars, and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
    6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives.
    7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive, and nut oils.
    8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts.
    9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice.

    Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron, and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

    That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

    Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multivitamin or specific supplement.

    The Bottom Line

    If you are tired of feeling tired all the time, then there is tremendous hope.

    If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices. If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes discussed above.

    Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

    More Tips to Stop Feeling Tired All the Time

    Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
    [2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
    [3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
    [4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
    [5] Very Well Health: Differences Between Sleepiness and Fatigue
    [6] Advanced Sleep Medicine Services: NEW Guidelines: How much sleep do you need?
    [7] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
    [8] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
    [9] National Institute on Aging: Sleep loss encourages spread of toxic Alzheimer’s protein
    [10] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
    [11] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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