Many people find the prebiotic vs probiotic argument very confusing. They sound like they should be the same thing but theyre 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. Thats because probiotics help to promote good health!
The official definition of probiotics from the World Health Organization is:
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 Crohns disease.
Its 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 cant 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.
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, its 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. Its 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.
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.