There are good guys and bad guys that fight for our gut, and where bacteria is concerned, it’s important for the good guys to win. We can help by increasing their number and giving them nourishment. Probiotics and prebiotics have key differences, but together they join forces against the unhealthy bacteria and work to improve our digestive function and overall health.
Similar But Different
Probiotics and prebiotics are the same in that they both keep the gut flora healthy. Gut flora refers to the bacteria that live in the digestive tract. Probiotics are the good bacteria that help keep the body healthy. They do this in a lot of ways—by boosting immune health, decreasing inflammation, producing vitamin K, and keeping out harmful viruses and bacteria trying to enter the gut. Probiotics also help with the digestion of nutrients from the food we eat so that we get the maximum nutritional benefits. In short, prebiotics feed the probiotics. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that the human body cannot break down that help the probiotics grow and flourish. Unlike some other types of fiber that help the digestive system process food properly but also feed the good and bad bacteria, prebiotics’ sole function is to support the probiotics in our system and increase their strength and number.
Importance Of Both
You may be wondering if it is enough to continue to add probiotics to your diet through food and/or supplements without adding prebiotics. There are a few reasons that both are more beneficial to your gut health than just one alone. The first is that the number of probiotics in food is limited. Your gut may have as many as thousands of strains of good bacteria, but you are only getting a few types in each food you eat. For example, yogurt, which is one of the best sources of probiotics, only has three types of probiotics. Another reason is that only some of the good bacteria we consume will actually make it to the intestines because the stomach doesn’t distinguish between the good and bad bacteria that it kills. Supplements tend to travel better because they are designed to make it past the stomach. However, even supplements don’t solve all the problems because the third downfall of consuming only probiotics is that not all of them stick in the intestines, and instead, get passed through as waste. This is not to say that you should not eat probiotic foods or take a supplement; you absolutely should. The point is that taking prebiotics along with probiotics will enhance the function and amount of good bacteria already in the system, so you get the most out of what you have.
Probiotics In Children
Research is discovering all the time the benefits of probiotics on human health, especially in children. Probiotics have been shown to help with allergies, regulating metabolism, fighting illness, behavioral issues, and even protecting children from mental disorders like depression. Like you, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes will ensure your children’s gut bacteria are well-fed and thriving. Other things you can do to promote healthy gut bacteria in your children is to avoid overusing sanitizers because it kills the good along with the bad. A good way to ensure cleanliness without losing the exposure to good bacteria is to switch to natural cleaners instead of bleach-based cleaners or antibacterial detergents. Be smart with antibiotics with your children because, again, antibiotics are non-discriminant when it comes to killing bacteria. A study by the University of Chicago and another by Johns Hopkins University found a link between peanut allergies and childhood weight gain and antibiotic use. Talk with your pediatrician to ensure that antibiotics are absolutely necessary before choosing that option.
To find out more about how probiotics and prebiotics can improve your health or to learn if adding certain foods or supplements to your diet is a good next step, make an appointment at GI Associates. We can also answer any questions you may have about the benefits of probiotics to your children’s health and development through our pediatric department.