More than 100 trillion bacteria call our gut home. This bacterium is part of our microbiome: all the bacteria, viruses, and fungi of the body, which outnumber the body’s cells 10 to 1. While that might sound kind of gross, we need plentiful bacteria to promote healthy gastrointestinal function and keep our digestive track balanced.
The key to keeping this balance is by creating an environment where these microorganisms can flourish. Do we need both prebiotics and probiotics to do this? Let’s find out.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the bacteria that naturally live within your body to help your intestines break down food. They can be found organically in many slightly fermented food products like sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha. If that’s not your cup of tea (pun intended), probiotics can also be purchased as a food-grade health supplement in powder or liquid form.
These supplements typically contain live organisms, usually of specific strains of healthy bacteria that directly add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. Probiotics usually need to be stored in the refrigerator to keep the bacteria contained in them alive and ready to reproduce.
While this might sound a little scary, remember that the cup of yogurt in your fridge has the same healthy bacteria in every yummy spoonful.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are specialized dietary fibers made up of carbohydrates that your body cannot digest. Since they’re indigestible, prebiotics passes through the digestive system to become food for probiotic bacteria and other microbes instead. Recently, prebiotics has grown in popularity as the fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Organically, prebiotics can be found in many fruits and vegetables, such as chicory root, bananas, and asparagus. Onions, garlic, artichokes, and legumes are also prebiotic sources. For those seeking some extra prebiotics, they can be purchased as a commercial food additive or capsule supplement in both liquid and powder forms.
The combined use of prebiotics and probiotics is called microbiome therapy. In microbiome therapy, the two components work in synergy with each other: probiotics replenish the number of bacteria in the gut, and prebiotics help feed the bacteria.
The verdict is still out on whether microbiome therapy is necessary; however, research suggests this treatment may prevent post-operative complications (POCs) among adult surgical patients.
In a recent study of nearly 3,000 post-op patients, microbiome therapy was the best regimen in reducing pneumonia, sepsis, length of hospital stay, and antibiotic use, as compared to resourcing to probiotics or prebiotics separately.
Researchers believe when used together, prebiotics and probiotics may enhance immunity and stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Do We Need Both?
While the study of POC patients may be hopeful, research assessing the connection between prebiotics and probiotics is still ongoing. Scientists cannot yet confirm whether taking prebiotics can support probiotic development, as prebiotics don’t contain any bacteria and are solely fuel to help bacteria grow.
What we do know is that on their own, prebiotics isn’t of much use. It’s only when used in conjunction with probiotics that prebiotics seems to affect the body. The bottom line is, you don’t need prebiotics for probiotics to work – but taking them might make your probiotics more effective.
A Word from GR8NESS
Before jumping onto the probiotic train or prebiotic train, it’s important to understand that each supplement is different. Because of the variations in bacteria strains, not all probiotics will work for you.
That being said, those currently taking antibiotic medication seem to benefit the most from a prebiotic and probiotic combination. The symbiotic effect helps combat the healthy bacteria that are being killed while you take antibiotics.
As always, when considering taking a supplement of any kind, talk to your doctor first.