Before exploring the benefits of using prebiotics, it’s useful to first explain what they are in relation to probiotics. In short, probiotic supplements contain bacteria that we usually think of as “friendly” or useful.
Having ample stocks of “good” bacteria in your gut can help to reduce the impact of “bad” bacteria and reduce the incidence and severity of diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, and other digestive problems.
Probiotic supplements are normally cheap and cheerful, and offer several useful boosts to the immune system and may even help to reduce obesity.
Prebiotics can essentially work to support the work of probiotic supplements, by providing the kind of food and fuel that probiotic bacteria need to survive and thrive. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres, meaning that they can stimulate the growth of bacteria by inducing fermentation, but are not actually digested by humans.
Probiotics (i.e. the actual bacteria) have been associated with several important benefits, including improving the functioning of the digestive system, supporting the immune system, aiding with weight loss, and even boosting mood. Probiotics are most useful after a course of antibiotics, and can help to prevent diarrhoea and other digestive disorders (and may help to reduce the time spent suffering with these conditions if you already have them). For more detail, be sure to check out our article covering the benefits of using probiotic supplements.
As prebiotics represent the fuel that these handy bacteria need to thrive, they may not be completely useful in isolation; if there’s no friendly bacteria around in your gut to chow down on the prebiotic, it won’t have any effect on its own. However, if used properly in conjunction with a probiotic regimen, prebiotics can help to magnify and bolster all the above benefits, and ensures that your supply of friendly bacteria is well-maintained and well-supported!
Most probiotic supplements actually contain a mixture of both probiotics and prebiotics together, and you may find a few products around that offer a source of prebiotics on their own. As with probiotics however, there is no need to rely on supplements if you prefer not to, as many easily-available foodstuffs are an ample source of prebiotic fibres.
The most prebiotic-rich food around is chicory root, although we appreciate that this is not often found in most grocery stores! More common sources of natural prebiotic fibres include asparagus, legumes, oats, rye, maple sugar, honey, onions, and bananas. There is no daily recommended allowance for prebiotic consumption, although 4-6g is thought to be optimal for the successful growth of probiotic bacteria in the gut.
Perhaps you should! Probiotic and prebiotic supplements are generally cheap and effective, and normally come with minimal side effects when compared to the benefits they offer. If you have no existing issues with your digestive system, it would be silly to expect a miracle uptick in health just from using prebiotics and probiotics – after all, your gut flora may be perfectly well-balanced already. However, if you find yourself suffering with frequent diarrhoea, irregularity, or an overabundance of gas, consider giving these handy supplements a go!