So, what is the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics? Are they any good?
We find out…
Probiotics: These are living microorganisms that generally improve or restore gut flora. They help maintain good health and digestion within the gut by controlling the amounts of unhealthy bacteria that can accumulate in the digestive system.
Prebiotics: Although Prebiotics may sound like the opposite of Probiotics, they actually act like food for the “good” bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in foods with high fiber such as whole grains, bananas, soybeans, etc.
Probiotics have been researched for least 110 years, originally recorded by Elie Metchnikoff, a Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner. In 1907, Metchnikoff was working in Bulgaria and became interested in how some of the local population lived longer than others. His research centered on those who lived past 100 years old, where there were common links between their health and longevity.
Metchnikoff found that the villagers living in the Caucasus Mountains were regularly drinking a fermented yoghurt drink. Metchnikoff thought that their health could be enhanced and senility delayed by a host-friendly bacterium found in the yogurt. Metchnikoff identified a Probiotic called Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, that improved their health and may have also aided the villagers’ longevity.
Inspired by the works of Metchnikoff, a Japanese medical professor, Minoru Shirota, was the first to succeed in cultivating a stronger strain of the lactic acid bacteria in 1930. Shirota was interested in the possibilities that the lactic acid bacteria might work to destroy harmful bacteria living in the intestines. The strain of lactic acid bacteria was named Lactobacillus Casei Strain Shirota after the professor.
Shirota gathered a team around him to create a drink that incorporated this bacterium for better health, which eventually became that household brand Yakult. Yakult first went on sale in 1935 and has been a popular health food ever since.
The term Probiotics was first used in 1965, to describe how some substances secreted from microorganisms formed another microorganism.
The bacteria in our digestive system are mostly good and provide a symbiotic relationship with our health and digestion. However, there are about 30 to 40 base types of bacteria in our gut that can mutate into many variations and strains. When we talk about the gut bacteria, we generally divide them into two types; good and bad.
The good bacteria are known as gut or microflora and they help aid in digestion by feeding off the bad bacteria. The most common bacteria groups in the gut are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. In turn, these groups contain many species and many strains.
The waste and harmful bacteria are removed in the feces, with up to 60% of fecal matter being bad bacteria. This can be a useful and important aid in identifying conditions like bowel disease and Hepatitis B.
There are many different types of Probiotics that you can get from foods or supplements. They are usually in fermented foods, but there is also a type of yeast that has the same effect. Probiotic foods include Yogurt, Kefir, Sauerkraut, Tempeh, Kimchi, and others.
Different health conditions may have specific Probiotics that can aid their problems.
Probiotics are also able to produce vitamin K and vitamins B12, folate and biotin. Studies have shown a connection between fat storage and fat loss.
Because of the amount and complexity of the gut microflora, scientists sometimes refer to them as the forgotten organ.
By 1995, the term Probiotics was generally known to describe good Bacteria that destroys bad bacteria in the digestive system. Prebiotics were also first identified by Glenn Gibson and Marcel Roberfroid during that time.
They found that certain non-digestible fibrous compounds go through the stomach, and when entering the lower part of the digestive system will cause activity in the microflora. This activity appeared to encourage the growth of good bacteria. In turn, creating a better defence against the bad bacteria.
They defined Prebiotics as “a non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and in turn improve the host health”.
In the twenty or so years after their work, the definition of Prebiotics is being constantly revised but the main features of their definition has remained the same.
It is generally accepted that a Prebiotic should increase the number or activity of lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacterium, and so can be used as an acceptable dietary supplement. However, since nobody knows which types of other bacteria Prebiotics also encourage, results cannot be completely predicted.
This complication is expressed by The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the regulatory agency for product labelling. The EFSA differentiates between “Prebiotic” and “dietary fibre”, stating that “a cause and effect relationship has not been established between the consumption of the food constituents which are the subject of the health claims and a beneficial physiological effect related to increasing numbers of gastrointestinal micro biota.”
EFSA rules state that individual ingredients cannot be labelled as Prebiotics, but only as dietary fibre with no implication of health benefits.
The best current definition of Prebiotics is from 2014 and was published by the Mayo Health Clinic which described Prebiotics as non-digestible substances that act as food for the gut microbiota. Essentially, Prebiotics stimulate growth or activity of certain healthy bacteria that live in your body.
Prebiotics are found in foods like whole grains, bananas, onions, garlic, honey, and artichokes. In a typical western diet, there are probably not enough naturally occurring Prebiotics to have a measurable effect. As an example, to provide enough prebiotic action in an adult, it has been calculated you would need to eat 1.3lbs of Bananas a day!
When we think of Probiotics, it is important to remember that they exist naturally in the gut in the form of bacteria’s known as microflora. The most useful Probiotics to our gut health are bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria.
The Probiotics used as supplements are essentially fermented versions of the same thing, cultured, and then sometimes added to foodstuffs. When ingested, they encourage activity and add to the existing Probiotics within the digestive system. They usually are in the form of a live strain of bacteria.
Prebiotics are essentially those carbohydrates that cannot be digested, but can be ingested to stimulate the growth of the useful bacteria already present in the gut. They act like foodstuff for the good microflora within the digestive system.
Prebiotic supplements are becoming increasingly available in a more condensed form, and there is an ever-expanding range of prebiotic products on the market.
Yes, you can take Probiotics and Prebiotics together. Prebiotics do not negatively interact with Probiotics. Prebiotics do not interfere with medications either so high-quality Probiotics and Prebiotics are safe when taken together!
There is still much to understand about the cause and effects of the microflora within the gut. In some cases, it has been noted that the fermented secretions of one type will change into another type of microorganism.
The complexity of the bacteria and the way they change in the digestive system is amazing. Each group of bacteria will mutate into many different types, and from there produce thousands of slightly different strains.
Scientists are making new discoveries all the time. No wonder scientists call Prebiotics the “forgotten organ”.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.