Many people want to know what the difference is between prebiotics and probiotics. They are both helpful supplements that benefit the health of your gut by providing or stimulating the growth of good bacteria. The biproducts of these bacteria or microbes are good for your overall health.
So prebiotics vs probiotics, what is the difference? Prebiotics are typically foods or supplements containing particular types of fibers that serve as food or stimulants for the growth of your microbiome (bacteria living within your gut). In contrast, probiotics contain the actual bacteria that colonize your intestines and consume the fiber, producing useful biproducts for your overall health.
Here is an easy way to think about the difference. Prebiotics are before (“pre”) life (“biotic”) while probiotics are for (“pro”) life (“biotic”). The “pre” in prebiotics means that the prebiotics provide the useful non-living material for the microbes living within you to consume. The non-living material is “pre” life since it is not yet alive. The “pro” in probiotics means that the probiotics actually provide the living material to continue that life. In other words, probiotics contain living bacteria (see “Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Julia Enders).
Prebiotics provide numerous benefits to your health by providing food for bacteria living in your intestines. Prebiotics have the ability to benefit you, independent of whether you are also taking probiotics. While prebiotics do significantly raise the efficacy of probotiocs, they can also be taken on a standalone basis. The benefits of prebiotics are important to your overall health and can also help prevent certain diseases.
Numerous scientific studies have shown the health benefits of taking prebiotics. A recent Oxford study has even shown that it in humans, prebiotics have significant neurological benefits. They reduce stress and decrease anxiety and stress. In the study, participants were tested for the stress hormone cortisol before and after taking a prebiotic. A portion of participants were give a placebo. Those receiving the prebiotics reported lower stress cortisol when tested after three weeks on the prebiotic.
We’ve established that prebiotics are important for your overall health and that you can use them to support your bacterial growth. But what, if any, are the side effects of taking prebiotics? Prebiotics side effects are generally small in comparison to the benefits that they yield but are worth learning about nonetheless.
To start, we would note that prebiotics have been designated as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration. They are commonly found in everyday foods as we have written about in other articles. There’s nothing particularly extraordinary or unusual about prebiotics and, for the most part, they are all-natural.
Prebiotics side effects can come from overdoing intake as with any typical food source. Prebiotic venders typically suggest that high doses of prebiotics can lead to abdominal pain, bloating or flatulence if too many prebiotics are taken too fast. They recommend reducing to lighter doses if these side effects occur and building up slowly. If you are taking supplements, consult the product information for an idea as to how much you should be taking. If you are not sure, ask your health care professional.
See below for our list of the top 20 best prebiotic foods. These foods, rich in prebiotics, are great examples of common everyday foods that contain plenty of healthy prebiotics that benefit the good bacteria in your gut. They can be worked into your everyday meals or eaten on their own.
Certain starches are an excellent source of prebiotics, especially when cooled. Cold rice and cold potatoes are very beneficial for the health of your gut. When cooled, these starches crystallize and are able to withstand the digestion of your small intestine and make it to your large intestine. There they provide greater benefits to your digestion. When you eat sushi, you may not realize it but you are also digesting beneficial ingredients for your digestive system through the cold rice you take in.
Milk is another source of prebiotics. Cow’s milk contains beneficial prebiotics but most beneficial bacteria found in raw cow’s milk is killed off during pasteurization. Breast milk contains large amounts of prebiotics and probiotics. One study outlines the benefits of human breastmilk including a complex system of prebiotics and probiotics unique to a mother.
Inulin is the key ingredient contained in many foods with fiber-based prebiotics. Bananas, onions and leeks contain plenty of inulin. Inulin is also used in many yogurt products as it can be used as a sweetener. Inulin can also be taken as a nutritional supplement available for direct purchase.
Please note that it is important not to suddenly switch from a diet low in prebiotic fibers to a diet rich in one. Such a sudden onset may lead to a fast blooming of these bacteria in your gut that your body may not immediately be able to handle. It is important to make your transition gradual and not overdo it. In addition, an increased intake of prebiotics may not be suitable for all people, especially those with liver problems who are unable to deal with the increased output from these probiotic bacteria.
See below for our Top 20 Best Food Sources for Prebiotics:
Inulin fiber is a dietary compound with substantial health benefits. It can reduce obesity, diabetes, anxiety and constipation. So what is inulin and why is it so helpful to us?
Inulin is a sugar or fat substitute that is a common prebiotic found in foods with high amounts of dietary fiber. It is a naturally occurring chain of sugar molecules, commonly found in foods such as chicory, garlic or bananas. It can also be purchased as a nutritional supplement and consumed on its own. Inulin is useful in that it is able to pass through the small intestine undigested, in order to be consumed by bacteria in the large intestine. In the large intestine it provides food for your microbes to flourish and thus provides benefits to the rest of your body.
What are prebiotics? Prebiotics are foods that feed the bacteria in your gut. Gut flora has been proven to improve immunity, anxiety, depression, neurological health, longevity, digestion, and possibly much more.
Prebiotics help us by fostering the growth of good bacteria within us. The scientific definition of prebiotics is “a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastorintestinal microflora, that confer benefits on host well-being and health” (See citation).
There are two types of prebiotics: inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). GOS is produced through the conversion of lactose (milk). Inulin is found in many types of plants, particularly bananas.
There are many ways to take in prebiotics including various types of food and nutritional supplements. What are some examples?
Disclaimer: We work to ensure that information contained in this post is correct and reflective of typical prebiotics that may be consumed. On occasion, prebiotic manufacturers may alter their ingredients. In general, the articles on this site in reference standard prebiotic substances made up of inulin and GOS unless otherwise noted. However, manufacturers sell alternative prebiotics made up of other ingredients as well. We recommend you review closely the descriptions on any supplements you purchase and adequately research their health effects.
Content on this site is not intended to replace advice from a health care professional. You should not use this to as self-diagnosis for treating your own health problems or issues. Contact your health-care provider for help with your specific medical problem. Information and statements contained herein has not been evaluated by the Food and drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, prevent or treat any health condition.