The Scoop on Prebiotics and Probiotics
By: Allison Kuhn, MS, RDN, LD, Registered Dietitian
While you may have taken an antibiotic to fight an infection, prebiotics and probiotics are proactive rather than reactive, supporting higher levels of healthy bacteria residing in your gut.
Probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, antibiotics…so many “biotic” buzzwords are being thrown around these days! What does it all mean? While you may have taken an antibiotic to fight an infection, prebiotics and probiotics are proactive rather than reactive, supporting higher levels of healthy bacteria residing in our gut. You may be surprised to know that bacterial cells actually outnumber our own tissue cells 10:1! Most of these trillions of bacterial cells are actually non-pathogenic and many are even beneficial, working synergistically to support optimal health. As more research is done to characterize our human microbiome, we’re learning that our bodies are like a complex ecosystem, with bacterial cells as key players. Many of these bacterial cells are concentrated in our nose, mouth, and digestive tract, where they play a vital role in intestinal function, vitamin metabolism, and much, much more. When beneficial bacteria predominate in the intestine, this is called “normobiosis,” which favors the following:
- Prevention of infectious diarrhea
- Improved digestion of lactose
- Increased stool regularity
- Production of anti-inflammatory compounds
- Formation of short chain fatty acids, which can have beneficial effects on cholesterol metabolism
It’s important to distinguish the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, as the terms are not interchangeable. Probiotics refer to viable bacterial microorganisms, such as those present in foods like yogurt, or in supplements, which remain active in sufficient numbers upon reaching the intestine. It’s important that probiotics are “packaged” correctly, as they can be susceptible to degradation by stomach acid and high heat. Prebiotics, on the other hand, can be thought of as “food” for probiotics. These are non-digestible carbohydrates which are fermented by and nourish existing good bacteria and help promote increased production of beneficial strains. Symbiotics provide the best of both worlds – synergistic combinations of both pre-and probiotics.