Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

December 18, 2020 4 min read

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Gut health has turned into quite the buzz lately, and rightfully so, given that all of the research up until this point has started to reveal pretty significant connections between the gut and our overall health. 

We’ve probably all been told at least once to take a probiotic to keep our gut healthy. 

Or to eat more fiber to help with digestion. 

So what does our gut actually need?  And can we get it from food or do we need to supplement?  What about if we have digestive stress like constipation, bloating, or gassiness?  

Today we are going to clarify the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, when they should be utilized, what the benefits of them are, and how best to get them!  

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics 

An individual’s gut bacteria or microbiome perform many important functions within the body, and both probiotics and prebiotics have a very crucial role in nourishing and rebuilding them.  So before we jump into specifics, let’s start with defining exactly what probiotics and prebiotics are: 

Probiotics -These are live bacteria found in certain foods and/or supplements that deliver a health benefit to a person, and beyond just the gut. 

PrebioticsPrebiotics are compounds that support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Dietary fibers and starches can act as prebiotics, but so can other plant-derived molecules such as polyphenols and microRNA. 

In short, probiotics are the gut bacteria and prebiotics are those bacteria’s food.  

Both of them are necessary for an overall healthy gut environment, and the health of our gut is far-reaching.  Believe it or not, probiotics actually have not been shown to work that well in terms of repopulating our gut bacteria, however they’re still extremely beneficial in transit to the gut.  It is very individual whether probiotics colonize or not for a person to build up or ‘top off’ their healthy gut bacteria - but what has been shown in research is that they support the small intestine’s health and other parts of the digestive tract and, in turn, impact other physiological aspects (SOURCE).  

So what benefits can a healthy gut make-up and probiotics bring?

  • Modify gene expressions which can help to up-regulate tumor-suppressor genes or down-regulate pathogenesis genes which impact mood and depression (SOURCE).
  • Assists with the ability to consume, digest, and metabolize more foods.  A healthy gut and digestive tract allows us to be free of digestive stress like bloating, constipation, or gas. 
  • Helps maintain the balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria within the gut. 
  • Stimulates the immune system 
    • Protects against pathogens 
    • Helps nasal congestion
    • Assists with oral health 
  • Helps manage and regulate hormonal production to keep hormones balanced. 
  • Helps manage skin conditions and acne - just as an inflammation in the gut can result in inflammation for the brain, it can also cause inflammation for the skin resulting in eczema, acne, psoriasis, dermatitis, etc.  So maintaining a healthy gut make-up can relieve negative skin conditions (SOURCE).

Probiotic Sources 

Probiotics are found in fermented food sources and there are  many different strains of bacteria that these food sources and probiotics can provide.  We recommend that if you currently struggle with digestive stress like bloating, constipation, or gassiness, to potentially eliminate certain inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, and sugar before introducing any probiotic-rich foods.  

If a digestive system is stressed, it is best to get any stress calmed down before introducing a probiotic or probiotic-rich foods, and when you do introduce a supplement, we recommend a soil-based probiotic to start as they are best tolerated by individuals with more sensitive digestive systems.  

With that being said, if you’re feeling ready to introduce some new gut-bacteria enhancing foods, these are great ones to start with: 

  • Sauerkraut
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Kimchi, Miso and Natto
  • Kombucha Tea
  • Kefir (coconut, dairy and non-dairy)
  • Some types of pickles (non-pasteurized)
  • A2 Milk, Yogurts and Raw Cheeses. (goat, sheep and buffalo)
  • Other pickled vegetables (non-pasteurized)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sourdough bread 

Prebiotic Sources 

Like mentioned earlier, prebiotics are the food for the healthy bacteria within the gut and it can be found in many foods, but it can also be placed into supplements. 

Prebiotics actually work more effectively for increasing our healthy gut bacteria than probiotics do, but they also provide a few other benefits: 

  • They assist in calcium absorption
  • They improve the body’s ability to digest and break down carbohydrates
  • They improve our gut health, which improves digestion and even our metabolism!  

If you eat a pretty vast array of vegetables and starches, you can get enough prebiotics from your food sources, but there are also supplements that provide additional prebiotics to help support the gut.  Here are a list of great prebiotic sources: 

  • Boiled and cooled legumes, beans and peas
  • Oats
  • Green bananas, plantains, berries and apple skins 
  • Jerusalem artichokes (not the same as regular artichokes) 
  • Asparagus
  • Dandelion greens (contains inulin - also found in our GREENS supplement)
  • Avocado
  • Garlic, leeks and onions
  • Boiled and cooled overnight potatoes and or sushi rice (also known as resistant starch) 
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Our GREENS Supplement! 

How Much and When to Consume? 

From what we can see, and what the recent research has revealed, both prebiotics and probiotics are pretty important to our overall health - not just our gut.  If you are planning to supplement with a probiotic, make sure to do your research and find one that has adequate amounts of CFU (colony-forming units), as well as proper types of bacteria (Lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and bacillus).  Also, make sure to follow the instructions on that particular probiotic supplement for dosing, as many of them start out with small doses and build up over time. 

When it comes to prebiotics, it is recommended that adults consume between 25-40g of fiber daily to ensure that we are getting adequate amounts of prebiotics.  You can track your food in an app like MyFitnessPal to calculate your fiber to make sure you’re giving your body what it needs.  

In a perfect world, you should be able to get the proper amounts of probiotics and prebiotics from your nutrition alone, but it isn’t a perfect world is it?  We know that fitting in all of those different types of foods can be tough, and that is why we often find it a bit easier to get our needs utilizing supplements too.  We love using our GREENS supplement to help improve our gut health and support our body! 

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