Prebiotics versus Probiotics — What’s the Difference?

The word “probiotics” are familiar to most people: the beneficial bacteria that populate the gut and are a first line of defense for the body against all number of illnesses. You’ve probably heard the word in recent yogurt commercials.

Strains of friendly bacteria that are most common include those in the Lactobacillis and Bifidobacterium families. You’ve probably heard of these … they are even being mentioned in the yogurt commercials these days. What you might not know about these friendly bacteria are:

– they help your body produce vitamin K, which boosts your immune system
– they can be killed by stress, antibiotics, chlorine, and other unhealthy lifestyle habits
– yogurt usually doesn’t contain enough of these probiotoics to really boost your health
– they (friendly bacteria) have to eat, too

You Have to Feed Your Friendly Bacteria
So most health-conscious people know that they have to add probiotics to their daily regimen to keep a strong population of friendly bacteria in the gut. Having a good supply of these probiotoics helps with digestion, symptoms of ulcers and leaky gut syndrome, symptoms of allergies, and all kinds of other good stuff.

What most people don’t know is that you also have to “feed” your friendly bacteria. They, like you, have to be fed or they tend not to stick around. So what do you feed the probiotics living in your gut? Why, prebiotics of course!

What’s a Prebiotic?
A prebiotic is any source of food for probiotics. For the most part, prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrate fibers called oligosaccharides. That is, you can’t digest oligosaccharides but your friendly bacteria can. Since you can’t digest these fibers, they remain in your gut and feed the friendly bacteria living there. It’s a good arrangement, no?

Oligosaccharides are found mostly in fruits, legumes, and whole grains. For instance, soybeans, oats, whole wheat, and barley all have oligosaccharides. Another common source of these fibers is inulin, which can be derived from Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, and chicory root.

While the science on prebiotics is still expanding, scientists are now saying that some people need more prebiotics and some people need more probiotics. These days it is recommended that you get both in your diet, so that you keep the population of friendly bacteria in your gut healthy and happy … so you stay healthy and happy.

Prebiotics are big news these days. For instance, the makers of one of the probiotic supplements that I take,  has just added inulin to its Bifidus formulation to make it more potent. When prebiotics are added to probiotics, it gives you more bang for your buck, since you swallow the beneficial bacteria complete with its own food source. Pretty cool, huh? I think so!

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