Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Nutrition and medicine use the terms prebiotics and probiotics interchangeably today, but there is a significant difference between them. Despite this, many people still do not know what prebiotics and probiotics are or how they work. Probiotics and prebiotics are two terms we hear a lot about these days, so we’ll explain the difference between pre and probiotic and why they are so essential to our gut health.

What is Gut Health?

Gut health pertains to the health of your digestive system, which is one of the largest systems in your body. Gut health is important since 70% of your immune system is also located in your digestive system. Poor gut health is often the result of stress and eating the wrong foods. When you are stressed, your metabolism slows down, resulting in less breakdown of food in your digestive system. As a result, food can stay undigested for a long time in your gut. During times of stress, it’s easy to choose foods that give instant pleasure (dopamine hit), such as sugar. It is well known that sugar is a major problem for people’s health. Sugar is okay in moderation, but too much can cause inflammation in your gut and eventually lead to weight gain.

Signs of poor gut health

Bad bacteria thrive when there aren’t enough good bacteria in your body. The absence of pre and probiotics can cause an imbalanced gut resulting in the following issues:

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes
  • Issues related to digestion, such as constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, or bloating
  • Problems sleeping
  • Skin rashes and allergies
  • Sugar cravings
  • Feeling fatigued or sluggish for no apparent reason
  • Mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss

So, what is the difference between pre and probiotic and how can they help?

What Are Probiotics?

In essence, probiotics are live microorganisms. They are regarded as the friendly bacteria that live in your gut. They directly impact your immune system and the overall function of your digestive system. Your large intestine contains a complex microbiome, which is dominated by probiotics. From friendly bacteria to viral particles and fungi, trillions of microbes live in your gut (gut flora). Within your digestive system, they work together to maintain balance and harmony.

Over time, probiotics can become depleted. Among the most common causes of this are poor diet and lifestyle, antibiotics and other prescription drugs, stress, alcohol, and pregnancy. In the same way that your fingerprint is unique, so is your gut flora.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of fiber found in vegetables and grains. Dietary fiber is essential to your digestion, which is why you should ensure you are getting plenty of it. Fiber can’t be digested in the small intestine; it is digested in the large intestine. The microbes in your large intestine actually break it down through fermentation, which produces natural gases. Fiber breakdown is then crucial to firming up stools. As a result, the waste products from food your gut has digested can be successfully passed out of your body. Consuming too little fiber can lead to constipation or loose stools.

Many vegetables are great sources of dietary fiber, including carrots, beets, broccoli, kale, spinach, tomatoes, etc. A prebiotic is also a food source for your probiotics. Microbes in your gut feed off the fibers, allowing them to grow and colonize. The more diverse and plentiful your gut bacteria, the better your body’s ability to fight off other harmful bacteria. So, the difference between pre and probiotic is that probiotics are live beneficial organisms, and prebiotics are the food that they need to survive.

Can You Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together?

The term synbiotic refers to supplements that contain both probiotics and prebiotics.

Many different types of fiber act as prebiotics, and they are not all as easy to break down for every type of probiotic. As part of a synbiotic, the prebiotic has been chosen in accordance with the probiotic included. Taking a synbiotic is ideal because taking prebiotics and probiotics separately may increase the risk of negative side effects. It’s important to be aware of the difference between pre and probiotic. Supplements taken incorrectly can cause stomach cramps or gas caused by over-fermentation in the gut.

With synbiotics, bacteria can be controlled to break down prebiotics more slowly, reducing this problem. Additionally, they contain the exact amount of prebiotics the bacteria require.

Supplementing the gut with a prebiotic ensures that more probiotic bacteria survive the journey through the digestive tract as they provide an optimal fuel source for helpful bacteria. Your stomach’s acidic environment kills many bacteria cells before they reach their destination, but a prebiotic can help them repair and multiply, ensuring a significant population survives. This explains the main difference between a pre and probiotic. In other words, prebiotic fibers feed the probiotic bacteria already in your gut, allowing them to colonize the gut microbiome.

In a Nutshell

As you’ve learned, there is a difference between pre and probiotic. You need both probiotics and prebiotics to maintain a healthy balance. Together, they support your microbiome – the community of trillions of bacteria in your body that keep it healthy. There is a synergistic relationship between the two. Probiotics would starve without prebiotics, leaving you vulnerable to constipation, leaky gut, and a compromised immune system. If there are no probiotics around to eat prebiotics, they are of no value to your gut. Overall, gut health can be supported with synbiotics.


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