If you’ve ever read a health blog, or walked through a health store, you’ve no doubt heard of probiotics, which are a very popular supplement in most health circles. Probiotics are live microorganisms that reside in the lining of your gut, regulating countless systems and processes in your body.
Probiotics are regularly promoted as a way to improve your gut health, immune system, mood, digestion… but what about prebiotics?
If you’ve never heard of prebiotics, you’re not alone–they don’t get anywhere near as much attention as probiotics.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the following topics:
- What is a prebiotic?
- What foods have prebiotics?
- Prebiotics vs. probiotics
- Why should I take prebiotics?
What is a prebiotic?
Your gut lining contains a microbiome, full of living microorganisms and bacteria that reside in the lining of your intestines. Probiotics are living bacteria, designed to populate the lining of your gut and restore balance.
Prebiotics on the other hand, are special fiber sources that feed this ecosystem, giving the good bacteria the nutrients it needs to thrive, keeping your gut healthy and happy. They feed the good bacteria that already exist in your gut, vs. trying to add new ones.
While taking probiotics may have health benefits, simply feeding the existing bacteria with prebiotics is an even simpler way to improve your gut health.
What foods have prebiotics?
Most prebiotics are found in high-fiber food sources, which have long been considered some of the healthiest foods for your digestive system.
You can use a fiber supplement in a pinch, but there are plenty of foods that are naturally high in prebiotic fibers, including:
- Chicory root
- Dandelion greens
If you struggle to consume enough prebiotic food sources, there are many prebiotic supplements on the market you can use.
Which are the differences between Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Now, you’re probably wondering why you’d need both prebiotics AND probiotics…while they sound very similar, they are completely different things.
Probiotics can help support healthy bacteria balance in your gut, and are usually found in fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and Greek yogurt. Prebiotics feeds this healthy bacteria so the body can benefit from it.
You can take all the probiotics you want, but they won’t survive very long without proper nutrition from prebiotics. They’re living organisms just like you and I, and require fuel to survive!
Can I take prebiotics and probiotics together?
Absolutely! These supplements go hand-in-hand, and should always be taken together.
Now, you probably won’t find them combined in the same supplement, and you don’t even need to use a supplement. Add some fermented foods, and some high-fiber, prebiotic rich foods, and your gut will begin to thrive.
Why should I take prebiotics?
Well, if you want to improve the health of your gut and digestive system, you need to support an optimal gut environment, and feed the healthy bacteria in your digestive system.
There’s plenty of evidence that supports the use of prebiotics to improve different aspects of your health.
#1) Potential Weight Loss
In one study , prebiotics were shown to help regulate ghrelin levels in overweight adults. Ghrelin is often called the “hunger” hormone, as it plays a large role in regulating appetite.
High levels of ghrelin will increase your appetite, causing you to eat more–this is far from ideal in those looking to lose weight. Prebiotics were able to decrease ghrelin levels, which helps with appetite control in those looking to lose some weight.
#2) Immune System
While further research is required to figure out the exact mechanisms, as the gut is very complex, it’s becoming quite clear that both probiotics and prebiotics can play a powerful role in supporting a healthy immune system.
Much of your immune system is controlled by your gut, and studies have shown that using probiotics and prebiotics to maintain a healthy gut biome may reduce symptoms of allergies and strengthen your immune system .
#3) Nervous System
Your gut is responsible for more than just your digestive system and physical health–we now know that the gut plays a powerful role in regulating your mood, particularly anxiety and depression.
In one study, participants who consumed at least 5g/day of prebiotic food sources reported an improvement in their mood, with less anxiety and depression .
So many people report being affected by anxiety, stress, and depression throughout their life, so if we’re able to alleviate these symptoms simply by consuming more prebiotic-rich food, this is a powerful tool to improve your mental health.
As anyone who’s suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can tell you, it’s no fun for anyone. Abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, diarrhea… this is a very common disorder that affects about 10-15% of the population in the United States.
The good news?
Probiotics and prebiotics seem to have powerful soothing effects, and can help relieve symptoms of IBS5. There are countless strains of bacteria in the gut, and more research is needed to figure out exactly which strains are the most beneficial, but the current research is very promising!
Fermented foods and probiotics have long been used to treat IBS and digestive issues, and as the science improves and researchers learn more about gut health, treatment should continue to become even more effective.
Prebiotics are a powerful tool to improve your health in 2022
While the gut is incredibly complex, and leading researchers admit we still have so much to learn, we’ve already discovered so many benefits to consuming prebiotics, and we’ll likely continue to learn more and more.
Whether it’s improving your mood, IBS, supporting a healthy immune system, or simply keeping your digestive system happy, there’s no doubt that maintaining a healthy gut biome is a powerful way to optimize your health.
All you have to do is take in plenty of prebiotic-rich foods, perhaps add some probiotics, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy and happy gut.
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