Prebiotics and Probiotics an overview

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Anupama Nair


I had often wondered what is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? The question people ask is, ‘Prebiotics vs probiotics’ which are better for gastro-intestinal health? A healthy gut plays a major role in our overall health and wellbeing, and taking prebiotics and probiotics, either in food or supplement form is one way to boost the digestive system and keep it working efficiently. The ‘gut microbiome’ consists of 100 trillion live bacterial microbes, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, that influence nutrient absorption, metabolism, immunity, mental health, how well we sleep and even whether or not we get spots. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School found out that a healthy gut could potentially also prevent some cancers and auto-immune diseases. 
However, the research from the University of Tsukuba in Japan suggests that a healthy gut can improve the quality of sleep. It found that gut bacteria might influence sleep patterns by helping to create important chemical messengers in the brain, such as mood-boosting serotonin and dopamine.

“Probiotics are beneficial or ‘good’ live bacteria that have the ability to restore and improve your gut microbiome, or gut flora,” was the theory put forward by  gut health specialist Marilia Chamon, who was the founder of Gutfulness Nutrition. You can find them in food and drink, or take them in pill or powder form. “Prebiotics, on the other hand, are non-digestible dietary fiber that act as food for good gut bacteria. You can find them in certain foods or supplements. Probiotics are transient, meaning they will survive in the gut for a short period of time, but do not set up residency. By feeding them prebiotic fiber, we give them the fuel they need to colonize the gut and improve digestive health.”

Chamon recommended eating a variety of food to gain prebiotics. Each contains unique fibers which the different microbes in your gut like to feed on, which is one of the best ways to increase your microbial biodiversity, which is crucial for a healthy gut.
    Artichokes
    Onions
    Garlic
    Asparagus
    Leeks
    Unripe/green bananas
For probiotics, Chamon advised consuming a variety of cultured and fermented foods, including those listed below:
    Yogurt
    Kefir
    Sauerkraut
    Kimchi
    Miso
    Kombucha
    Pickles

“These are a dietary source of live bacteria that can favorably alter the gut’s microbial balance,” she said. “This is because they offer high concentrations of digestive enzymes produced during the fermentation process by micro-organisms in the food, so that they can assist with the digestion of simple and complex carbohydrates including fiber, proteins and fats.”
It’s fine to take prebiotics and probiotics together, which is called as microbiome therapy. You don’t need prebiotics for probiotics to work, but it might make them more effective. In fact, a study conducted in 2020 suggested doing this could even help to treat obesity. You might ask, when is the best time to opt for a prebiotic vs probiotic? “Probiotic-rich foods can help to improve gut bacteria diversity and taking supplements can be used as a therapeutic tool to address specific symptoms, for example: bloating, constipation, diarrhea,” said Chamon. She recommended, however, to only use specific strains of probiotics that have been researched and proven to help with certain gut-related symptoms.

“Prebiotics, on the other hand, feed probiotics, for this reason, it is important to eat a varied plant-oriented diet, rich in prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic supplementation can also be helpful for those who struggle to eat enough fiber, with daily recommended intake in the US being 25-30 g. 

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