What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

You’ve probably heard that probiotics can be important for your health. But what about prebiotics?

The two terms are so similar that it can be hard to keep them straight, so let’s break it down.

Probiotics are live bacteria that are important to maintaining good gut health and a strong immune system.

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that are present in a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. “They boost production of your good bacteria [the probiotics],” says Dr. Anshu Chawla, a gastroenterologist with Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “As they move into the small intestine, they begin to ferment, which helps nourish your gut flora.”

Your gut flora is the community of microorganisms that lives mostly in your intestines and your colon.

“There’s a biome of good and bad bacteria that live in the gut, and when there’s an imbalance, it can affect not only your gut but your body’s overall health, as well,” Dr. Chawla says.

So it’s important to get a good balance of both probiotics and prebiotics because they work hand-in-hand.

The fermentation process that prebiotics go through in your gut fosters the growth of more beneficial bacteria colonies (probiotics) and helps them to outcompete bad bacteria.

You can also promote the probiotics in your gut by ingesting them directly through supplements or through naturally fermented foods such as Greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, miso soup, kombucha and kimchi. When it comes to using supplements, however, Dr. Chawla urges caution.

“There’s still a ton of research going into this,” he says, “so the jury is still out about what the right dose is. And since probiotics are a natural substance, there isn’t an FDA approval process.”

You can also add prebiotics through supplements (again with the same degree of caution). Or you can make sure your diet includes foods that contain complex carbohydrates. Some good examples of prebiotics are Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oatmeal and apples.

So, how do you know if you should start introducing more probiotics and probiotics into your diet? It’s something to ask a health professional.

If your gut is less than healthy, you may begin to experience increased sensitivity to certain foods along with a range of gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas or diarrhea.

One cause of this is a condition known as Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), which results from a bacterial imbalance. SIBO can be diagnosed through a special test that detects the methane these bacteria produce in your breath. If it comes back positive, Dr. Chawla says, “we can treat it with antibiotics or by adding prebiotics or probiotics to restore the balance of the gut flora.”

Ironically, foods to avoid when you have gas and bloating include broccoli, cabbage, apples and certain other fruits and vegetables. But “when doctors are trying to encourage bacterial growth in the gut, a lot of the foods we recommend – oatmeal, whole grains, apples – also produce gas,” Dr. Chawla says.

So, if your gut flora is out of balance and you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, or even if you’re just curious about introducing probiotics and prebiotics into your diet, it’s always best talk to your doctor first.

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  1. Peter Werner,M. D. October 6, 2022 at 11:59 am · Reply

    Very clear and informative Article, thank You! May be, referring to additional References talking about this subject could broaden the Impact of this excellent Publication.
    Respectfully Priv. Doz., Dr. med. Peter Werner, M.D., F.C.C.P., Assoc. Professor of Medicine

  2. I agree with being cautious when taking a supplement. I have tried on two different occasions, several years apart. They did not agree with me. The best for me is Kefir and also love sauerkraut.

  3. I made a smoothie that included water, olive oil, chia seeds, uncooked oatmeal, balsamic vinegar, spinach, strawberries, an apple & a banana, blueberries, walnuts, cocoa powder, pumpkin pie spice, 2 splenda packets, & 2 scoops of whey protein powder. Not able to down it all in one sitting, I poured the remainder in a plastic btl & left it on the kitchen counter, unrefrigerated. The next morning the btl had expanded to its limit so I cautiously placed it in the sink b4 opening it. I miscalculated the force I was unleashing cuz it eXpLoDeD in my face, glasses, hair, on the walls, & all over the ceiling. (FYI: Those specialized eraser sponges work great but don’t last long.) I drank what was left in the btl & the ingredients had taken on a slighty sour & effervescent quality. I’m thinking I may hv created a super-prebotic drink.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.