Probiotics are microorganisms in a symbiotic relationship with humans, and prebiotics are the food for the microorganisms. In order to benefit from probiotics, (the good microbacterial flora), we need to nourish them, to allow the proper growth of their colony; without the proper food the micro flora would just starve and eventually die.
So what's the difference between the two? The difference is huge, probiotics are life forms, such as bacteria, or yeast, whereas prebiotics are just various substances to nourish the microflora.
Probiotics are good the good bacteria that live in symbiosis with us humans, that help us to control pathogen, and we can take care of them by feeding them properly with prebiotics.
Probiotics Examples and Natural Sources
Probiotics are bacteria that live in our guts, and form a symbiotic relationship with us. We provide them a place to live, and food, they help us by killing or inhibiting the harmful bacteria, or other pathogens, strengthen our immunity, and help digestion and absorption of food. In general, we don't have to worry too much about feeding the probiotics, because they have enough food from our normal diet, as long as our diet is balanced. The neat thing about them, is that they feed with dietary fiber that humans cannot digest, so for us is useless, or even bothersome. The distinction between good and bad bacteria is attributed to Eli Metchnikoff, a Nobel Prize winner who observed that if we modify our flora to contain more of a certain bacteria, these harmless type of bacteria will replace the harmful ones. At about the same time, Henry Tissier, a French pediatrician, discovered a direct correlation between the numbers of a certain bacteria, and the occurrence of diarrhea in children. Probiotics have started to get a lot more attention starting the nineties, and since then they have been proved beneficial in many health problems such as:
- inflammatory diseases, and bowel syndromes,
- cardiovascular disease,
- bacterial vaginosis,
- urogenital tract infections,
- yeast vaginitis, (Candida),
- LDL cholesterol control,
- anxiety and depression
- atopic dermatitis, and fungal dermatitis
- improve digestion and absorption
- synthesize vitamin K and B12
Probably the most important role is prevention, by keeping a healthy bacterial colony we prevent many health problems. Examples of probiotics: bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus salivarius, Saccharomyces boulardii, (it is a yeast). Read more about the health benefits of probiotics here.
What Are Prebiotics? Prebiotic Types Prebiotics are dietary fibers, in the form of carbohydrates, that humans cannot digest. Their sole purpose is to feed the bacteria in our guts. When a probiotic and a probiotic are combined, they are called a synbiotic, and it is the form that is the most effective as treatment.
The most common example of synbiotic is yogurt, or kefir. It contains both the bacteria colony, and the food for it. There are more types of prebiotics: galacto oligosaccharides, fructans, (fructo oligosaccharides and inulins), (inulin is the most known fructan prebiotic), lactulose, (which is a synthetic sugar), and mannan oligosaccharides, (considered by some as not being a prebiotic). Fructooligosaccharides and Health
The most known natural prebiotic sources for fructans are: garlic, onions, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, coffee substitutes, chicory root, honey, unpasteurized vinegar, whole grains, soybeans.
Prebiotics can be taken by themselves, or in combination with a probiotic. Sometimes just by taking a prebiotic we give a boost to our gut flora, by feeding it. Let's take a look at some of the prebiotics, and their anecdotic health benefits, and possible connections with the probiotics.
Vinegar is known to help in cases of diarrhea, the mechanism is not known, and I read a lot of aberrations about that. I have a posible mechanism: raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar works by feeding the good bacteria in our gut. ACV only works for bacterial infection caused diarrhea. Raw apple cider vinegar applied on the skin helps with eczema. People think that it is the acidity that kills the bad bacteria, but I believe that ACV in fact feeds the good bacteria helping it multiply, and the good bacteria will eventually kill the bad one. Chicory root is known for centuries for its health benefits, it is only recently that we found out that inulin, a fructan type prebiotic, is actually the explanation for the health benefits of chicory root. Honey is one of the nature's miracles, and besides its content in enzymes, and trace minerals, many of the health benefits of honey stem from its high content in oligosaccharides, a powerful prebiotic.
Prebiotics vs Probiotics
If things are still confusing, here is another simpler explanation:
Probiotics are the life forms that colonize our guts and skin, and keep us healthy. The more we have, the better is. Probiotics can be bacteria or yeast.
Prebiotics are substances that feed the probiotics. Prebiotics can be natural, or synthetic, and they are dietary fiber that we cannot digest.
Which one to take, probiotics or prebiotics?
If you take both you have the best chances that the colony will survive, and thrive. If you only get probiotics, (the good bacteria), if your regular diet is low on prebiotics, the colony will die of starvation. If you only take higher doses of prebiotics than regular, the prebiotics will thrive and start to multiply. However, in many cases just prebiotics are not enough to restore a healthy gut flora. As a conclusion, if you increase your prebiotic intake it might be just enough. If that that doesn't work, start with both. But if you want to ensure your result take both right from the start. In fact it is pretty hard to take probiotics without prebiotics in natural form. All forms of prebiotics in foods, are well nourished. Lactobacillus are fed from milk, lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut, or any brine pickles feed from sugar in the pickled vegetables, etc... So when you eat probiotic foods, you don't need extra prebiotics. However, if you take probiotics as a supplement, you might need extra prebiotic foods, depending on your regular diet. Here is the abstract of a scientific research to show how effective are prebiotics if taken without probiotics: Prebiotic treatment of colitis with germinated barley
Dr. Oz Discussing with Oprah about Probiotics