The words probiotic, prebiotic and synbiotic are becoming increasingly common in health news, and in normal conversation. The combination of probiotics and prebiotics are widely found to be beneficial in general health, as well as specifically targeting symptoms of a range of diseases and conditions – particularly inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
But if you are going to start taking probiotic supplements, you had better understand exactly what probiotics are, and how they compare with prebiotics. That way, you can get the maximum benefit from your probiotics. We are going to talk you through the difference between probiotics and prebiotics so that you understand how they can help you most.
Table Of Contents
- 1 What Are Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics?
- 2 Where Can I Find Probiotics In My Diet?
- 3 Where Can I Find Prebiotics In My Diet?
- 4 How Can Probiotics And Prebiotics Help Me?
- 5 Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics
- 6 Conclusion
What Are Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics?
The words are similar and often used together, so it can be a little confusing to know which elements of our supplements will bring what benefit and whether we need them all.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are good for us. They are usually bacteria and can also be yeast, and are thought to be ‘good bacteria.’ Your body, in particular, your gut, is full of different types of microorganisms such as bacteria, which you need to be able to function. They are thought to be associated with hormones and cell processes. They are not germs that cause diseases; they instead help to keep your gut balanced and healthy.
Probiotics reduce the risk of bad bacteria flourishing and have therefore been linked to the reduction and prevention, as well as the treatment of conditions such as diarrhea. They are able to reduce the severity of the symptoms of many bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Some are also thought to be able to reduce cholesterol by different mechanisms.
Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not living organisms. Instead, prebiotics are fibers – non-digestible elements of foods that are found in some fruits, vegetables, and starches. While they are indigestible to humans, prebiotics are essentially the food for probiotic bacteria and yeasts. They therefore provide the suitable environment for probiotic bacteria, allowing them to flourish so that your body can gain the benefits of probiotics.
The term synbiotic is one used less commonly, so you may not have heard about this previously. Synbiotics are food ingredients or dietary supplements which contain both probiotics and prebiotics. While the two do not have to be taken together, it is often thought to be a good idea to include both in the same supplement, so that you can get the maximum benefit from the good probiotic bacteria. In particular, symbiotic supplements are designed specifically so that the prebiotics included selectively favor the included probiotic organisms so that you get the most out of your symbiotic supplement.
Where Can I Find Probiotics In My Diet?
You can find probiotic ingredients widely in many different types of food sources. The most common is probably yogurt – particularly if it has been handmade. Often yogurts are infused with particular strains of probiotic such as lactobacillus or acidophilus, but different yogurts contain many different strains of probiotic. Other sources of probiotics include:
- Fermented or pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut
- Miso soup
- Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
- Kombucha tea
What Is The Best Way To Consume Probiotics?
As you can see, while yogurt and pickled vegetables are easy to come by, other sources of probiotics are a bit more difficult to incorporate into your regular diet! For that reason, it is a good idea to start taking a probiotic supplement regularly. Ideally, choose a symbiotic – a supplement that combines probiotics with prebiotics.
To help you decide which probiotic is the right one for you, we have reviewed what we think are the best options on the market. See what we thought of the best probiotics for women and the best prebiotics for men to decide which would benefit you the most.
Where Can I Find Prebiotics In My Diet?
Unlike probiotics, you can find prebiotics extensively in different foods, and thankfully, they are found in the food groups that form part of a healthy, balanced diet anyway. You can find prebiotics in many, though not all, fruits and vegetables, including:
- Chicory root
- Onions (cooked)
- Sweet potatoes
These sources are more prebiotic if you eat them raw. Other sources of prebiotics are:
- Wheat bran
- Flax seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Wild rice
- Coconut Flour
We recommend not only choosing a probiotic supplement that has prebiotics incorporated in it too but also filling your diet with plenty of these prebiotic foods. You are considering taking probiotics for your health anyway, so you might as well give your body the best chance by maxing-out on your healthy foods!
How Can Probiotics And Prebiotics Help Me?
The combination of probiotics and prebiotics can benefit your body in many different ways. They are ingested so that the greatest effect will be on your digestive system. In addition to the role that they play in probiotics, the prebiotic fibers aid your digestion by promoting the movement of material through your digestive tract, preventing constipation.
Probiotics can replenish any good bacteria which has been lost from your gut for example due to illness, surgery, antibiotics and other causes. They can also maintain the healthy balance between the good bacteria and bad bacteria in your gut, therefore preserving the optimal environment for health and digestion. Probiotics are able to treat, prevent and reduce the severity of symptoms of a number of different conditions.
They can greatly reduce the severity and duration of acute infectious diarrhea such as travelers’ diarrhea and ease symptoms of ulcerative colitis and IBS such as bloating, wind and diarrhea.
Probiotics have also been formulated to ease specific male or female complaints. Many probiotics for women can balance out the healthy bacteria in the vagina, reducing the occurrence and recurrence of thrush. Similarly, supplements for men may promote prostate health.
Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics
There can be confusion over the difference between digestive enzymes and probiotics. Both form essential components of our digestive systems, and are vital for our digestive health, and our ability to function, but they affect us very differently.
For example, while probiotics are living, functioning microorganisms that exist in the microbiome (mini ecosystem) which is your gut, digestive enzymes are not living, but instead active proteins. Digestive enzymes are both created by your body and ingested in the foods that you eat. The function of digestive enzymes is not to fight against bad bacteria, but instead to break the chemical bonds between food molecules (such as starch), and therefore break them down into smaller molecules which are small enough to be absorbed by your body and later used in cell processes and bodily functions.
The production of digestive enzymes can be slowed-down if you are unwell. Part of the reason for this is that your body is dedicating more energy to creating different types of enzymes – such as those which work to break down viruses – instead of creating digestive enzymes. This may suppress your appetite, or cause discomfort when you are unwell. This can give you symptoms such as gas and bloating, which coincidentally, probiotics can minimize!
Just like probiotic supplements, you can take enzyme supplements. Neither probiotics nor enzymes can tolerate harsh, acidic conditions, such as stomach acid. Therefore if you take a probiotic supplement or an enzyme supplement, make sure to choose one which is suitably coated and developed to deliver the formula right into your intestine, and will not be destroyed by your stomach acid.
So now you know the differences between probiotics, prebiotics and digestive enzymes! They are all extremely important elements of our digestive and overall health. Without them, we simply could not function as we do, so it is important to look after our digestive health as much as we can.