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Prebiotics & Probiotics: Benefits, Differences and Sources

Just like antioxidants, there is much confusion regarding the topic of probiotics. In recent years, we have seen a rise in awareness about gut health, and many people are now familiar with terms like microbiome or gut flora. We now know that there's a direct link between our mood and gut health, but what exactly are probiotics? Are they a combination of nutrients, like multivitamins? And what is the meaning of an even more confusing term - prebiotics? Does that mean there are postbiotics too? Let's put everything in order.

Probiotics

probiotic and stomach illustration drawn on blackboard, pills inside stomach
Probiotics are live organisms that naturally live in your body and help the intestines break down food. They can be consumed as a liquid, a powder supplement, or through a diet rich in fermented foods and dairy products.
On a practical level, the gut bacteria you naturally have in your body have numerous tasks. They produce vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids that function as the main nutrient source for the cells that line the colon. Thanks to these bacteria, a person has a strong gut barrier that keeps harmful agents away and fights inflammation.
This probably goes without saying, but we will mention that a consistent diet high in sugar feeds the wrong bacteria and eventually throws the entire gut flora off balance. Antibiotics also severely disrupt the balance and may even cause permanent changes in the gut flora.
The health benefits of probiotics
Probiotics have been linked through extensive research to several health benefits. These include the prevention and treatment of diarrhea and improvement in mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress, and memory issues. Probiotics have also been shown to contribute to heart health by lowering LDL cholesterol (the "bad" type) and slightly lowering blood pressure.
In addition, probiotics will benefit those suffering from certain digestive disorders, such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and necrotizing enterocolitis by relieving symptoms. Lastly, they enforce the immune system in its protective force against infections and may even help lose weight and belly fat. Probiotics have also been shown to reduce the severity of certain allergies, but further studies are required to come to a solid conclusion.

To read more about the connection between gut health and mental health and how probiotics operate to improve mental health, read these articles:

- Can Probiotics Improve Mental Health?

- 4 Surprising Ways Your Gut Affects You

How can I get more probiotics?

If you're not keen on supplements, a plethora of probiotics awaits you in dairy products like yogurt and fermented foods. These include:

  • Pickled vegetables
  • Kombucha tea
  • Yogurt with live cultures
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Some soy products.

Make sure that your fermented foods are not pasteurized, as this sanitizing process kills the bacteria. However, as probiotics can be neutralized by naturally occurring stomach acids, adequate amounts should be ingested to reap the benefits, leading many people to prefer supplements that are easy to consume and contain concentrated amounts of probiotics. Some are superior to others and are designed to be delivered safely to your large intestine while others will perish in your stomach acids. Read the World Gastroenterology Organization Global Guidelines for further information.
Source, Source

PrebioticsPrebiotic spelled out on scrabble letters.

Prebiotics are fiber foods for probiotics. They're made of carbohydrates your body can't digest and exist solely to feed gut bacteria. Taking both prebiotics and probiotics together is called microbiome therapy. It may cause mild initial side effects that will go away after your body adjusts. They include gas, constipation, and loss of appetite. You don't need to take prebiotics for your probiotics to work, but they will work more efficiently if you do.

To be crystal clear, prebiotics are not bacteria. They are a type of fiber that helps bacteria grow. Taking them on their own won't benefit you much, as they're meant to complement a probiotic diet or supplement. Foods that contain both prebiotics and probiotics include cheese, kefir, and some yogurts. These are called synbiotic foods.

Some people may be allergic to prebiotics. Rashes or extreme abdominal pain are indicators of an allergy. If you experience these symptoms, discontinue use immediately and contact a doctor. If this is starting to feel like a task, remember that not everyone needs to take prebiotics or probiotics. The people who will benefit from them the most are those who take antibiotics.

How to consume prebiotics?

According to Healthline, the following foods are high in prebiotic fiber:

  • Legumes, such as beans and peas
  • Cocoa
  • Flaxseed
  • Seaweed
  • Grains like oats, barley, and wheat bran
  • Fruits like bananas, berries, and apples
  • Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions, and chicory root
  • Dandelion greens. If you're not familiar with them, this video will help:
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

Postbiotics

Blue soft gut model and white pills on blue background
Postbiotics are the waste product of probiotic digestion. Postbiotics are bioactive compounds that bacteria produce when they consume prebiotics. Postbiotics have health benefits similar to those of probiotics: a boost to the immune system and a relief in digestive symptoms and diarrhea. Other benefits that require further research may be:
alleviate allergies, aid in weight loss, lower risk of heart disease, manage blood sugar, and anti-tumor properties. One study even suggests they may be better tolerated than probiotics.

How to consume postbiotics?

Since they're considered a rather new kind of supplement, postbiotics are not as widely available in a powdered form as probiotics or prebiotics. There are numerous supplements available for purchase in specialty stores and online, but as with any other supplement in the world, the best way to get these nutrients is through your diet. Eating more synbiotic foods will result in the natural internal production of postbiotics.

In some cases, the supplements may be labeled sodium butyrate, calcium butyrate, or dried yeast fermentate.

There are individual groups of people that should avoid postbiotics. They are:

- People who have recently had surgery
- People who have structural heart disorders
- People with digestive tract disorders
- Pregnant women
- Children.

Children and pregnant women will benefit from probiotics.
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