prebiotics vs probiotics
Natural Health, Nutrient Spotlight

Prebiotic vs. Probiotic: Differences, Similarities, & Best Sources

There is a dizzying array of supplement options available on the market today. The variations, addressing a multitude of health issues, are endless! One type you may have heard of is probiotics. Prebiotics may be less familiar to you. When considering prebiotic vs. probiotic, we’ll talk about each of their benefits and the differences between the two.

What is “gut health”? When comparing prebiotic vs. probiotic, it’s helpful to know about “gut health.”

Our gastrointestinal (GI) system, also known as our digestive system, includes our esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Sometimes the food we eat doesn’t move smoothly through the digestion process. We’ve all felt the effects of digestion difficulties. The worst is when it happens with our favorite foods! 

What happens in our GI system also affects our immune system and its ability to fight off illnesses. There’s a lot going on in there that impacts our overall health!

To help the digestive process and keep our immune system healthy, we need a good balance of bacteria in our GI system. Although there isn’t an official scientific definition of “gut health,” in part, it refers to effective digestion and absorption of food in the GI tract, in which the “good” bacteria play an active role. This “good” bacteria keeps the “bad” bacteria in check. 

Or another way to look at it – if you aren’t experiencing any pain or discomfort associated with your digestive system (such as heartburn, indigestion, stomach pain, infrequent or too frequent bowel movements, and more), you likely have a relatively healthy gut!

So, what are probiotics?

Even if you have never taken probiotics, you’ve probably heard of them. Probiotics are growing in popularity in the United States. Among adults, four times more adults were using probiotics in 2012 compared to 2007. Probiotics are made up of “good” bacteria, which there are plenty of in a healthy GI system. They help the “bad” bacteria from overtaking your GI system and causing things such as diarrhea, heartburn, bloating, or irritable bowel syndrome. 

If you keep the optimal balance of bacteria within your GI system, you can also help strengthen your overall immune system. So, not only can probiotics help us enjoy the foods we eat, but it helps us fight germs that may otherwise leave us in bed feeling miserable!

Other noted benefits of probiotics include support in combating mild depression and fighting allergy development. Also, probiotics can be particularly helpful in refueling the “good” bacteria in your GI system after taking a round of antibiotics. As it works to stop bacteria from causing infections, it also kills off much of the “good” bacteria in the process. 

Although we’ve mentioned some of the main advantages of probiotics, the list doesn’t end there. Scientists have found several other possible health benefits to taking probiotics! There is definitely a strong case for making sure probiotics are included in your daily diet.

There are two main types of bacteria in probiotics.

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the two most common types. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce these types. Just know that all Lactobacillus bacteria don’t have the same job, and the same goes for Bifidobacterium bacteria. But if you purchase probiotics as a dietary supplement, you will be getting a variety of strains.

It is also important for people to note that probiotics come in different dosage levels. Probiotics are measured in CFUs which stands for Colony Forming Units. This unit of measure lets you know roughly how many live bacteria are in one serving of the probiotic. Before you reach for the probiotics with the most CFUs of bacteria, keep in mind that you may not need it. The amount of CFUs you need will depend on your personal health condition and goals. 

Also worth noting is there are probiotics to address the unique health needs of women and children. 

Here are some examples of probiotics with various strains and dosage levels:

Now that we know what probiotics are, let’s compare them to prebiotics.

Before comparing prebiotic vs. probiotic, we need to understand what prebiotics are. Prebiotics work hand-in-hand with probiotics by encouraging the growth of “good” bacteria. Prebiotics do this by serving as the fuel for the bacteria. The “good” bacteria feed on prebiotics, which are essentially fibers that your body can’t digest. This fuel helps the “good” bacteria multiply and keep the balance necessary for a healthy gut. 

Here are some examples of prebiotic supplements available by Renew Life:

So, basically, when considering prebiotic vs. probiotic, it comes down to their unique jobs.

  1. Probiotics are bacteria, while prebiotics are non-digestible fiber. 
  1. Probiotics and prebiotics have some amount of reliance on each other. The bacteria from probiotics help break down prebiotics. On the other hand, prebiotics fuel the bacteria which helps them to multiply. Prebiotics give probiotics the extra boost that can benefit your gut health and, ultimately, your immune system, among many other advantages. Without probiotics, prebiotics provide little value to your gut. 
  1. Probiotics tend to be more fragile than prebiotics. While heat, oxygen, and time can damage the live bacteria in probiotics, prebiotics are less sensitive. Some probiotic supplements require refrigeration. Others may be in freeze-dried form and, therefore, can be kept outside the refrigerator in a cool, dry place. It all depends on the strain of bacteria in the probiotic supplement. If you found it in a refrigerated section at the store, then you should be refrigerating it at home. Storage instructions should also be found on the supplement’s label too.

    Probiotics can even become less effective as they are traveling to your GI system. The acid in your stomach can actually kill off some of the bacteria. Some find that probiotics in capsule form can protect the bacteria and help it safely travel through your digestive system.
  1. When comparing prebiotic vs. probiotic, both have similar side effects. These may include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Every person is different, so the side effects you experience may vary, or you may experience none at all. When it comes to prebiotic supplements, it is recommended to start off slowly to see how your body reacts. For probiotic supplements, the average daily dosage is 10 to 20 billion CFUs for adults and 5 to 10 billion CFUs for children. Adjust your dosage based on how your body reacts. This goes for prebiotics too!

    This reaction is usually temporary and in response to a large die-off of bad bacteria, or just a sign that your body is rebalancing. If you experience any side effects, simply drop the dose, wait a few days, and bring it up again.

What are common sources of probiotics and prebiotics?

A healthy, well-balanced diet is always the best way to receive the nutrients your body needs to function properly. By understanding prebiotics vs. probiotics, we can learn to choose various foods that provide us a healthy amount of each. 

Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kefir, and yogurt are fermented foods that are common probiotics sources. Sometimes pickled vegetables are also fermented and also a great source of probiotics. It depends on the chemical reaction that occurs when they are pickled. 

When adding a probiotic-rich food to your diet, consider the other ingredients included. For example, miso is very salty, so don’t go overboard with it. You won’t want to cause other health issues over time while boosting the probiotics in your diet!

We can also find prebiotics in a variety of foods with specific dietary fibers. It’s important to remember, “all prebiotics are fiber, but not all fiber is prebiotic.” Include these common foods in your diet to get the prebiotics you need: garlic, onions, leeks, leafy greens, asparagus, bananas, and legumes. Legumes include beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Less common foods rich in prebiotics are jicama, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichokes. This might be a great excuse to try something new!

For whatever reason, many of us find our daily diets lack the needed amounts of prebiotics and probiotics. Other times, we may face health issues where more probiotics or prebiotics will help us stay healthy.  In these situations, supplements are a great way to get the levels we need to maintain or improve our gut health. These supplements are available in a variety of forms, including capsules, gummies, and powders. 

As always, we are here to help you choose the right supplements for you. Whether by email,  phone, or via chat on our website, we are ready to answer your questions. You can also fill out our form, and we will get back to you promptly. We look forward to offering you guidance on your healthy lifestyle journey!

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