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Probiotics And Prebiotics: What’s the Difference Between The Two And Why Are They Important?

Gut health plays a vital role in the proper functioning of our body. Talking about gut or gastrointestinal tract, you might have come across two similar words: probiotics and prebiotics. Though, both the words are related to the digestive system, they are often mistaken as one.

Both probiotics and prebiotics are important for maintaining a healthy microbiota of the gut. In this article, we will discuss the difference between the two and why they are important. Take a look.

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Probiotics Vs Prebiotics

1. Probiotics are microorganism (bacteria and yeast) present in the digestive tract. They are referred to as good bacteria as they help maintain gut health.

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres found in various foods. They do not get digested easily, but pass directly through the colon where they serve as food for probiotics and help them grow and thrive.

2. Probiotics are created by a process of fermentation. When a person consumes prebiotic foods, they do not get digested by the small intestine and pass to the large intestine, where they get fermented and help produce good bacteria in the system.

Prebiotics are fibres that do not get digested by the gut.

3. Probiotics are naturally created by fermenting prebiotics fibres. When we consume unhealthy foods, the healthy bacterial colonies die out causing digestive problems. Foods that naturally contain live bacteria include yoghurt, miso, tempeh, certain soybean products, olive pickles and sauerkraut. Probiotic nutritional supplements are also available.

Prebiotics foods include garlic, onion, artichokes, unrefined raw grains, asparagus, banana, apple skin, oats, flaxseed, beans, berries, chicory roots, wheat and barley.

4. Probiotics are useful in treating inflammatory bowel diseases and intestinal issues.

Prebiotics help control glucose levels, provide metabolic support, help in the absorption of vitamins and minerals, act as a laxative and strengthen the immune system.

5. Probiotics offer numerous health benefits apart from keeping the digestive system healthy. They help perform many other vital body functions such as keeping depressive symptoms at bay..

Prebiotics offer nutrition and create favourable situations for the probiotics to flourish and grow.

Prebiotics and probiotics have a symbiotic relationship for digestive health. They both are essential for a healthy digestive system and a healthy body. However, when we take antibiotics for a bacterial infection, harmful bacteria, along with some good bacteria get killed in the process. Therefore, it is suggested to take a probiotic nutritional supplements after antibiotics as they help replace the good bacteria. Also, both should be consumed in moderation or some digestive tract problems may arise. [1]

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Why Are Probiotics Important?

Good gut health is important for general health. Probiotics are very essential for the production of healthy bacteria in the lining of the intestines. To note, the same type of good bacteria is also present in the linings of the vagina that help keep the vagina healthy.

Probiotics help boost the immune system, improve the digestive system, improve depressive symptoms, helps in weight management and fight harmful microorganisms that may cause infections and allergies. They reduce the harmful effect of bad bacteria found in the body and also protect our DNA. [2]

Many types of live bacteria are classified as probiotics and each of these class of bacteria affect our body in a different manner. Promotion of a healthy digestive system and boosting our immunity are the two most commonly identified functions of probiotics. However, on a whole, probiotics balance the good and bad bacteria in our body and help them function properly.

The only safety concern is regarding probiotic supplements. They should be taken only after consulting a medical expert. This is because to some people with autoimmune diseases like HIV, probiotic supplements can cause superinfections and make the condition worse.

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Why Are Prebiotics Important?

Prebiotics are vital components of some high fibre foods. Apart from serving as food for gut bacteria, they have other advantages too. They help increase the population of gut microbiota (like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria) and stimulates the immune cells of the gut that helps in reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

Prebiotics have gene modulation activity which is responsible for its anti-cancer effect. They also play a major role in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. [3]

The role of prebiotics in easing constipation and weight management is widely known. As prebiotics are high fibres, they fill the stomach giving a feeling of satiety, which in turn prevents craving and overeating. Also, as they take time to ferment, they prevent the sudden spike of glucose in the body which reduces the risk of diabetes.

The by-product of prebiotic fibres is short-chain fatty acids that have multiple advantages. They help in the absorption of important minerals like magnesium and calcium by the large intestine.

Prebiotics are naturally found in certain foods and there's no need for any of its supplements.

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To Conclude

Both probiotics and prebiotics are needed by the gut. However, it is still unclear whether they should be taken together or not. Some studies say that they could be taken on the same day to make gut microbes happy.