Practically every health guide these days stresses the importance of probiotics. But every now and again, you’ll also see a health article recommending prebiotics. Are these the same thing?
Not at all. In fact, there are big differences between probiotics and prebiotics. Let’s take a look at what each of these compounds can do for your diet and why you should try to eat plenty of both.
The Gut Microbiome
To understand probiotics and prebiotics, we first have to look at the gut microbiome.
In a nutshell, the gut microbiome is a collection of healthy microbes and bacterial strains that live in your intestinal tract.
The gut microbiome is responsible for:
- Helping your digestive system extract vital nutrients from your food
- Preventing harmful bacteria from infecting your digestive tract
- Sending the correct signals to your brain, and triggering hunger instincts for healthy foods like fruits and vegetables
Your gut microbiome is composed of bacteria that can grow or diminish based on your current nutrition. The healthier you eat, the healthier your gut microbiome will be as well. You literally are what you eat, at least in the case of the gut microbiome!
On the flip side, if you eat a lot of junk food like pizza or ice cream, your gut microbiome won’t be particularly healthy and you’ll crave unhealthy food more often.
What are Probiotics?
In short, probiotics are live bacteria that improve or help your gut microbiome (the word means “pro” plus helpful “biotics” or living organisms). Probiotics can be found in both foods and supplements.
For instance, one of the most common sources of probiotics is yogurt. You can make yogurt by fermenting milk with various strains of bacteria. Lots of yogurts have live strains of bacteria in the final product. When you eat the yogurt, that bacteria make it to your gut microbiome and add to its effectiveness. This is simply an example as it is important to note that yogurt does have a high sugar content so this is not the first source of probiotics we recommend. You can read further to find better sources of probiotics.
You can think of probiotics as additional strains of helpful bacteria you can use to bolster your existing gut microbiome. They provide lots of great gastrointestinal support.
Benefits of Probiotics
So how exactly do probiotics help? Turns out, there are lots of studies that show that probiotics can help your digestive system overall. Specifically, probiotics can help relieve digestive system issues.
There’s also some research suggesting that probiotics can improve your mental health by relaxing your mind.
All in all, probiotics are great for both gastrointestinal and overall bodily health. Anyone interested in living the healthiest life they can make sure to eat plenty of probiotic-rich foods like yogurt.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a little different. Although they have a similar name to probiotics, prebiotics are actually special plant fibers that work like fertilizers for the healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome. The name gives you a hint here as well – “pre” means before”, so it’s a precursor to healthy bacteria.
You can find prebiotics in a variety of tasty fruits and vegetables, especially those that are made of resistant starch and fiber or complex carbohydrates, like broccoli. The complex carbs can’t be digested by your body, which means they go through your digestive system and eventually are consumed by the healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome.
So here’s a big difference. If probiotics are healthy bacteria that add to your gut microbiome, prebiotics are food or fertilizer that the bacteria in your gut microbiome can use to grow by themselves. Probiotics add more bacteria, prebiotics makes the existing bacteria healthier.
Benefits of Prebiotics
There are lots of health benefits from consuming prebiotics, either through supplements or through eating certain foods each day. These benefits include:
- Supporting calcium absorption by your body
- Allowing your body to process carbohydrates more efficiently
- Supporting the growth of healthy gut bacteria
In a way, prebiotics’ greatest benefit is how they support the bacteria already in your gut microbiome. They provide many of the same benefits as probiotics, just in a more roundabout way.
What are Postbiotics?
Many of the health benefits linked to prebiotics and probiotics are a result of the production of postbiotics. Postbiotics are the bio-active compounds that the probiotic (bacteria) produce when they consume their food (prebiotics). To explain, probiotics are the good bacteria found in foods like yogurt, fermented foods, and cheeses. Prebiotics are food for probiotics, they feed the good bacteria and help the production and growth of healthy gut bacteria. Postbiotics are the result of probiotic activity in the gut.
Benefits of Postbiotics
- May help boost the immune system and have anti-tumor effects
- Help improve or reduce symptoms associated with digestive issues
- Can help improve blood sugar and blood pressure levels
Which Should You Prioritize?
Both! In fact, there’s no evidence to suggest that there are any health risks associated with consuming both probiotics and prebiotics. Both types of organic compounds or organisms are necessary for a well-rounded and effective gut microbiome.
Good news – you can find plenty of excellent foods to add to your diet if you want to eat more probiotics or prebiotics.
Probiotic foods include:
- Organic Kefir, a probiotic milk drink
- Organic Cheeses
Odds are you’ll be able to browse your local grocery store and find plenty of probiotic-rich foods to choose from.
Meanwhile, you can add plenty of prebiotics to your diet by targeting foods like:
- Chicory root
- Bananas (in moderation)
- And many more
Overall, practically any delicious fruit or vegetable you want to eat likely contains at least a few prebiotics that your gut microbiome can use to grow healthily.
We’d strongly recommend combining both probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods in your diet. Not only will this give your gut microbiome lots of nutrients for its overall health, but it’ll also improve your diet in the long run.
As you can see from the above lists, these foods are healthy and provide lots of vitamins and minerals. Exchange some salty or sugary foods already in your diet for these snacks or meal ingredients and you’ll see great improvements.
All in all, probiotics and prebiotics are super important for your body’s overall health and the health of your gut microbiome in particular. Try to add both to your nutrition where you can and when you can’t, reach for Livingood Daily Pre + Pro + Post Biotics Blend for an easy and tasty way to get them in – you’ll be doing your digestive system, and your body overall, a favor!
Dr. Livingood, yes that is his real name, is the Founder of drlivingood.com natural health site, and also the founder of Livingood Daily. He has authored two Amazon #1 Best Selling Books Livingood Daily and Make Food Simple. In 2007 after nearly losing his father to health conditions, Dr. Livingood was prompted to find a health care system to save his father’s life. Where medicine failed Dr. Livingood discovered solutions that got his father off 15 medications and overcame major heart and autoimmune conditions. As a Doctor of Natural Medicine and DC he now serves thousands of people in Morrisville, NC, and millions through his online and media presence. Dr. Livingood, his wife Jessica, and three kids spend their lives leading people nationally and locally in the hopes that others can experience real health.
Harvard Health | Benefits of Probiotics
Medical News Today | Differences of Probiotics & Prebiotics
Cleveland Clinic | Differences of Probiotics & Prebiotics
Medical News | Foods Containing Prebiotics