Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?
The names may sound almost exactly the same, but there’s a big difference in the way they work in your body. For optimal health, make sure you understand prebiotics vs. probiotics.
Understanding prebiotics vs. probiotics
Prebiotics, according to Alanna Cabrero, RD, with NYU Langone Health, are food, or nourishment, for the good bacteria in your gut. Probiotics, on the other hand, “are bacteria and yeast that support our body’s ability to absorb and digest nutrients, as well as build a healthy immune system, including the ability to fight infection,” she explains. Prebiotics, a type of fiber, encourage the sustainability of healthy bacteria and, together with probiotics, promote better gut health. “One of the secrets to digestive health is to balance out the good and bad bacteria in your gut through eating probiotic-rich foods along with prebiotic fiber,” says Cabrero.
Why probiotics are important
A review of the research on probiotics suggests that these bacteria can keep the immune system strong and reduce chronic inflammation, which is associated with serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. They can also improve digestion and skin—and help maintain a healthy body weight. “Our gut (or some would say the ‘window to our health’) is home to 70 to 80 percent of your entire immune system, so it’s important to keep it happy,” says Cabrero. Check out more health benefits of probiotics.
Feeding your gut bacteria with prebiotics
Here’s one way to think about prebiotics vs. probiotics: “I think of taking probiotics as the equivalent of restocking a pond with fish. Taking prebiotics, by contrast, is like nourishing and supporting the fish that are already in the pond,” says Raphael Kellman, MD, author of The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss.
Where can you find prebiotics?
Another way to think of prebiotics vs. probiotics: The healthy bacteria in your gut—the ones you get from probiotic foods—feed on (prebiotic) fiber in other foods, Cabrero explains. She suggests eating high-fiber foods like onions, garlic, oats, bananas, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds. She also advises getting your prebiotics from food rather than from supplements: “Taking too much can cause bloating and gas,” she explains. Did you know that prebiotics can help you cope with stress?
Getting the most from probiotics and prebiotics
“As much as feasible, avoid foods and lifestyle choices that can kill your good bacteria,” explains Cabrero. This includes the overuse of prescription antibiotics or other medications; eating too much sugar or gluten; a lack of exercise or lack of sleep; and stress, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Check out these 7 clear signs you have an unhealthy gut.