Prebiotic Versus Probiotic: Whats The Difference
Pre and probiotics are beneficial for human health because gut bacteria play a key role in many aspects of the body, not just the colon.
The gut microbiota consists of trillions of bacterial cells which carry out a variety of important functions in the human body. Its not possible to live without your microbiota, and the benefits of a diverse and balanced microbiome extend well beyond the gut. Here are just a few important jobs gut microbes do:
- Promote protection against metabolic diseases
- Help maintain a healthy body weight
- Produce important short-chain fatty acids
- Train the immune system to work optimally
- Deter pathogens that could make you sick
- Maintain the intestinal lining against leaky gut
Your colonic bacteria trade their health-promoting functions for a place to live . In fact, they do so well for you that you barely even know theyre there. It is possible to increase the diversity of your gut microbiota . Thats where prebiotics and probiotics come in.
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Prebiotics Benefits: What Do Prebiotics Do
Prebiotics nourish your gut microbiome, boost the growth of beneficial bacteria, and promote the production of health-promoting substances.
You probably already consume prebiotics without even realising it because they naturally occur in plant foods, and milk too. The most stable sources of prebiotics are specific types of dietary fibre because they are less sensitive to heat and age, compared to say, polyphenols, which are plant nutrients that can be affected by cooking.
However, just because many fibers are prebiotics doesnt mean that all fibre is prebiotic. Some insoluble fibers cant be broken down by gut microbes. Thats okay because they give mass and bulk to your stools, like psyllium husk and hemicellulose. They help you to have regular bowel movements, thus preventing constipation and abdominal discomfort.
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What Are The Benefits Of Probiotics
Studies suggest that certain probiotics can help in certain contexts. But you will need to do your research. We can help.
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Walk into a health food store, or even a drugstore, and youre likely to find an entire aisle, maybe two, dedicated to probiotics. Probiotics are live micro-organisms, usually bacteria, that provide health benefits when consumed at appropriate doses.
According to some surveys, approximately four million Americans take probiotics, which are available as pills, powders, foods and drinks. Probiotics are a huge industry at least a $40 billion dollar one, according to Zion Market Research and popular brands sell for 35 cents to $1 a dose, with a shelf life of several months.
Framed this way, probiotics may seem like a no-brainer. But before you reach for your wallet, keep in mind that while many scientists and doctors believe that probiotics have promise, they also say that a lot of products on the market dont live up to the hype.
The current evidence does not convince me to recommend probiotics for any of my healthy patients, said Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance.
Health Benefits Of Probiotics
Lots of research has been carried out about the benefits of probiotics on human health, and not just for gastrointestinal disturbances. In fact, the effects of probiotics are so vast that researchers are even studying how they contribute to mental health.
If your doctor has ever prescribed probiotics alongside a course of antibiotics, its because antibiotics disrupt the microbiome and probiotics can help mitigate the negative effects. Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut microbiome that can help restore balance and prevent unhelpful, opportunistic bacteria from becoming too abundant.
Some research suggests that probiotics could have anti-cancer properties, especially against colon cancer. Studies have shown that certain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria can stop the growth of bacteria which produce enzymes that convert pro-carcinogens to carcinogens.
Interestingly, a new field of research is looking at the effects of gut bacteria on the brain – its called psychobiotics. Theres some evidence that some metabolites produced by probiotic microbes can influence brain health, stress resilience, and even depression symptoms.
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Why Are There So Many Different Probiotics
When scientists refer to specific types of probiotics, they identify them according to their genus , species, and strain. For bacterial probiotics, as an example:
There are seven core genera of bacteria and yeast used in probiotics:
Within each genus are even more species and strains, and the effects of probiotics are species and strain-specific.³ Simply put, this means each genus, species, and strain works differently in your body, and sometimes, they work better in certain combinations.
For example, two similar-looking probiotic supplements that contain Lactobacillus, may have completely different strains, and very different health outcomes.
Probiotics work best when paired with prebiotic fibre which are a source of food or fertiliser for your probiotics without adequate prebiotic fibre to feed and nourish them, your probiotics wont survive and flourish.
You can get prebiotic fibre from a diet including a wide variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Some probiotic manufacturers also add prebiotic fibre to their products these probiotic-prebiotic supplements are called synbiotics.
What Should I Consider When Researching Probiotics
The potential benefits of probiotics are widespread, but there’s no one-size-fits-all application. There are many different probiotics, each strain performing a separate function or producing a different benefit in the body. Additionally, probiotic supplementation is an exciting and growing area of research. The current literature supports their use for various conditions, primarily within digestive health.
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Can I Get Probiotics From Food
You can absolutely increase beneficial microbes in your body from the foods you eat. Certain foods have probiotics in them and can benefit the health of your microbiome.
These foods can be introduced into your diet at any point of the day. You may even be regularly eating them now and not realize that they contain probiotics. You will want to check the food label for live and active cultures. A few suggestions for just some of the probiotic-rich foods you can add to your diet and some times to try them include:
For breakfast, try:
Probiotic supplements may be combined with a prebiotic. Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates that feed the microorganisms in your gut. Basically, prebiotics are the food source for the good bacteria. They help feed the good bacteria and keep it healthy. Prebiotics include inulin, pectin and resistant starches.
When you have a supplement that combines a probiotic and prebiotic, its called a synbiotic.
What Do They Do
Among other things, probiotics help send food through your gut by affecting nerves that control gut movement. Researchers are still trying to figure out which are best for certain health problems. Some common conditions they treat are:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Infectious diarrhea
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
There is also some research that shows they’re useful for problems in other parts of your body. For example, some people say they have helped with:
- Skin conditions, like eczema
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How Do They Work
Researchers are trying to figure out exactly how probiotics work. Some of the ways they may keep you healthy:
- When you lose “good” bacteria in your body, for example after you take antibiotics, probiotics can help replace them.
- They can help balance your “good” and “bad” bacteria to keep your body working the way it should.
How Are Probiotics Regulated In The United States
Government regulation of probiotics in the United States is complex. Depending on a probiotic productâs intended use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might regulate it as a dietary supplement, a food ingredient, or a drug.
Many probiotics are sold as dietary supplements, which donât require FDA approval before they are marketed. Dietary supplement labels may make claims about how the product affects the structure or function of the body without FDA approval, but they arenât allowed to make health claims, such as saying the supplement lowers your risk of getting a disease, without the FDAâs consent.
If a probiotic is going to be marketed as a drug for treatment of a disease or disorder, it has to meet stricter requirements. It must be proven safe and effective for its intended use through clinical trials and be approved by the FDA before it can be sold.
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Probiotics Vs A Medical Food
Probiotics support better digestive health in non-specific ways. If you have a more serious digestive condition such as IBS, you can ask your healthcare provider about using a medical food instead of a prebiotic supplement. A medical food contains specific species and strains of probiotics that are clinically tested in people and shown to benefit a particular disease or condition.
Unlike regular probiotics for general digestive health, a medical food for IBS is specially formulated and intended for the dietary management of IBS. It offers distinctive nutritional needs that cant be met through diet changes alone.
People with IBS live with ongoing abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. These species and strains of probiotics in certain medical foods for IBS have been clinically tested and shown to have these benefits:
A medical food also provides microbiome support like general probiotics, but because it contains specific clinically tested species and strains, it might also provide more effective symptom relief.
How Safe Are Probiotics
Because microbes used as probiotics already exist naturally in your body, probiotic foods and supplements are generally considered safe. They may trigger allergic reactions, and may also cause mild stomach upset, diarrhea, or flatulence and bloating for the first few days after starting to take them.
There are certain people who need to use caution when using probiotic supplements. There is a risk of infection in some people. These people include those who have:
- A weakened immune system .
- A critical illness.
Caution should also be used when giving probiotics to very sick infants.
Always talk to your healthcare provider before starting a probiotic supplement.
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Youll Get A Rush Of Many Vital Nutrients
In addition to probiotics, yogurt is packed with so many other nutrients that your body can benefit from. For example, Kane says youll get a decent dose of calcium , phosphorus , magnesium , and potassium . And thats not all, either.
Probiotics actually produce vitamin K as well, which is used for healthy blood coagulation to support healing, says Kane.
The best way to ensure that youre reaping the full health benefits of yogurt is to take a close and careful look at the nutrition label before adding it to your shopping cart. Ideally, Kane advises selecting one that contains multiple strains of bacteria.
How To Use Them Safely
The FDA regulates probiotics like foods, not like medications. Unlike drug companies, makers of probiotic supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or that they work.
Ask your doctor if taking probiotics is a good idea for you. In general, probiotic foods and supplements are thought to be safe for most people, though some people with immune system problems or other serious health conditions shouldn’t take them.
In some cases, mild side effects might include an upset stomach, diarrhea, gas, and bloating for the first couple of days after you start taking them. They may also trigger allergic reactions. Stop taking them and talk to your doctor if you have problems.
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Probiotics: What Do Probiotics Do:
Probiotics in fermented foods and supplements may benefit health by breaking down food and boosting the immune system.
Fermentation is a process where bacteria transform a substance, and its what probiotic bacteria are renowned for. Probiotics can have positive health effects even if they just pass through the gastrointestinal tract but dont settle down in the microbiome.
Are there plant based probiotics? Definitely, foods like tempeh , sauerkraut, kimchi, and lacto-fermented pickles are only possible thanks to the actions of bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium that metabolise sugars and increase the nutritional value of these foods.
Fermentation is advantageous for humans because such foods provide a great way for the beneficial bacteria to enter the body. Historically, it was also essential because no one had a fridge or freezer back in the day, and now science is turning to these traditional foods to find solutions for health.
FACTProbiotics are examples of beneficial bacteria which enter our body, usually through the ingestion of fermented foods, that have positive benefits for our health.
Do I Need To Take Probiotics After I Take Antibiotics
Antibiotic medications are often needed to fight an infection. However, while antibiotics are killing the bad bacteria, they are also knocking out the good bacteria in your body. Some people develop conditions like diarrhea after taking an antibiotic. In other people, this may allow for really bad bacteria to take over and populate the gut, such as with C. diff. Some research has shown a positive connection between taking probiotics after an antibiotic and relief from diarrhea. This hasnt been proven yet and doesnt work for everyone.
The thought behind adding probiotics back into your body after taking an antibiotic is that it can repopulate the good bacteria that was destroyed by the antibiotics and re-boot your system. The extra good bacteria helps repopulate your gut and fight off any remaining bad bacteria. Many people feel that adding in probiotics wont hurt, might help you feel better a little faster and prevent diarrhea.
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Are There Benefits To Probiotics
Some clinical studies suggest that certain probiotics can help in certain contexts. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 can help treat irritable bowel syndrome , while Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG can each reduce the risk of diarrhea in adults taking antibiotics.
Specific probiotics have also been shown to help treat pouchitis, ulcerative colitis, colic and infectious diarrhea, and to reduce the risk of developing Clostridium difficile infections after taking antibiotics.
To understand the various contexts in which probiotics could be useful, check out this guide recommended by Gregor Reid, a microbiologist and immunologist at Western University in Ontario, Canada, and the former president of the industry-fundedInternational Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics , although some products on the list are backed by more research than others.
And no matter what the science says, probiotics sold as dietary supplements are not disease-treating drugs. If companies want to market their probiotics as medical treatments, they have to pursue a form of Food and Drug Administration approval to market them as live biotherapeutic products. Thus far, no probiotics have been given this designation.
Can Reduce Risk Of Developing Clostridium Difficile Infection
Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that can cause a serious gastrointestinal infection, particularly in people who have been hospitalized or taken antibiotics for long periods. Research in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded with moderate certainty that probiotics can reduce the risk of C. difficile-associated diarrhea in adults and children who are taking antibioticsGoldenberg JZ, Yap C, Lytvyn L, et al. Probiotics for the prevention of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea in adults and children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 12:CD006095. . Interestingly, probiotics can prevent C. difficile infection but not treat it, says Cresci. Other research has found favorable results with the Lactobacillus strains, specificallyPierre-Jean Maziade, Noam Ship, Jason C Sniffen, Ellie J C Goldstein. Enhanced Clostridioides difficile Infection Prevention With a Pharmacy-Controlled Policy That Adds a 3-Strain Lactobacillus Probiotic Concomitantly to Antibiotic Therapy. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2021. .
Note that if you are taking antibiotics, experts recommend taking probiotics at least two to three hours after your antibiotic dose.
May Improve Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
With irritable bowel syndrome , people often experience abdominal pain, bloating, gas and bouts of diarrhea and constipation. A review of 15 studies published in World Journal of Gastroenterology found consuming probiotics to be associated with a reduction in abdominal pain and other symptom severityDidari T, Mozaffari S, Nikfar S, Abdollahi M. Effectiveness of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Updated systematic review with meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 21:30723084. . Specifically, a review in Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that, there is growing evidence that B. infantis is becoming the frontrunner for treatment of IBSAragon G, Graham DB, Borum M, Doman DB. Probiotic therapy for irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterol Hepatol . 2010 6:39-44. .
How Probiotics Became So Popular
The guidelines come as a growing number of American adults are taking probiotics. According to a 2012 National Health Interview Survey, about four million U.S. adults and 300,000 children reported using probiotics in the previous 30 days. Probiotics usage quadrupled from 2007 to 2012, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health , and they are the third most commonly used dietary supplement after vitamins and minerals.
When the AGA panel reviewed research on the health effects of probiotics, they found few high-quality studies and insufficient evidence to support probiotics for most gastrointestinal conditions.
There were, however, exceptions where the evidence showed a potential benefit for probiotics, provided patients read the labels very closely to ensure they were taking the exact type of probiotics recommended by the AGA.
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