If you’ve clicked onto this page, you’re probably considering introducing probiotics into your supplement routine. Or perhaps you just want to find out a little more about what benefits there are to taking probiotics.
Either way, you’re going to need to know what ‘prebiotics’ are also.
If you want to give your body the best chance at stellar digestion and loads of other disease-fighting, immune-boosting benefits then keep reading.
What are probiotics?
To put it simply, probiotics are friendly, beneficial bacteria that hang out in your small and large intestines. Groups of beneficial strains of bacteria, yeast and live microorganisms are called ‘gut flora’ and aid mostly in the digestion and absorption of the nutrients in your food.
If you’re healthy, there can be more than 400 species of probiotics in your body. That’s about 40 trillion good and bad bacteria cells. As long as there’s a good balance between the beneficial and nasty bacteria, your digestion will be working as it should.
Here’s a list of some of the main benefits of probiotics:
- Improve digestion and absorption of nutrients (source)
- Boost immune function (source)
- Creates an environment that infection cannot thrive in (source)
- Reduces symptoms of IBS, diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, liver disease, etc. (source)
- Regulating female health and hormones (source)
- Stimulates production of vitamins B12 and K (source)
- Reduces bloating and inflammation (source)
Probiotics can be consumed in powder, tablet or capsule supplement form or from certain foods – which we will discuss later. When choosing how to get your daily dose of probiotics, it’s best to do your research and pick a method that works best for your lifestyle and dietary habits. Always consult a doctor if you’re unsure.
What are prebiotics?
Just like us, probiotics need food so they can thrive and flourish. The food that they need is called prebiotics and are actually indigestible fibres. Whilst they may be indigestible to human, your friendly probiotic bacteria will happily munch away on them.
When prebiotic fibre reaches the large intestine, it is fermented so that your beneficial bacteria can feed on it. When they do, they’re given the energy to grow and benefit your body in the most optimal ways possible.
According to this study, the two strains of probiotic bacteria that benefit the most from prebiotics are:
- Lactobacilli – Helps to reduce cholesterol, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Boosts immunity, vaginal health and aids in weight loss by promoting good digestion.
- Bifidobacteria – Main benefits are aiding digestion and protecting the body against harmful bacteria that cause disease and illness.
Without prebiotics, it is possible that you won’t be receiving the maximum benefit from your probiotic supplement or foods. On their way through the body, many bacteria will not survive or will be flushed out with normal bodily functions.
If you’re going for a supplement, get the most bang for your buck by purchasing one that has prebiotics mixed in already. They will work synergistically to optimize your health.
What are Synbiotics?
You may not have come across the term ‘synbiotics’ as it’s not frequently used but it may very well be the next big thing in health. Basically, synbiotics are foods, supplements or combinations of foods that contain both prebiotics and probiotics.
Taking them together ensures maximum effect for minimum effort, especially if you’re getting all that goodness from one small, daily capsule!
To get these benefits, simply combine foods that contain both probiotics and prebiotics at the same time.
Consuming them together means you’ll be feeding your probiotics to ensure their efficiency.
Best to do your research though as some prebiotics can benefit certain strains of probiotics better than others.
Look out for probiotic supplements that contain prebiotics, these are the ones you’ll want to be reaching for and it should be specified on the front of the bottle or the ingredients list on the back.
Best natural sources of probiotics
Probiotics can generally be found in a lot of foods, however, not many of these foods will already be in your diet and may be a little tricky to incorporate.
You can consume probiotics naturally from yummy foods like:
- Kefir (cultured, fermented beverage akin to a yoghurt drink)
- Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage)
- Kimchi (popular Korean cuisine of spicy, fermented cabbage)
- Tempeh (fermented soy beans)
As you can see from this list, yoghurt and pickles are just about the only food you might find in the average diet.
You can definitely introduce some of the other foods into your daily lifestyle as they’re all quite easily found in supermarkets and are definitely delicious, but if not, a supplement might be the way to go.
Luckily, there’s a heap of great options when it comes to the probiotics market. Due to their ever-increasing popularity, you’ll definitely be able to find a product that works for you.
When choosing a probiotic supplement be sure to check these things:
- Form – Powder, tablet or capsule
- Expiration date – Probiotics rapidly decrease in potency the closer they are to expiry
- CFU’s – Colony Forming Units, aim for at least 10 billion (but the more, the better)
- Strains – Different strains of probiotic bacteria will have different benefits, do your research and pick a supplement that has the right strains for your health goals
- Dosage – Always aim for a once daily dose to make things easier for yourself to stay on track
Best sources of prebiotics
As mentioned above, probiotics can be taken in a supplement form. If this is the path you’re taking, be sure to get a product that is synbiotic. This means it contains both prebiotics and probiotics in the one dose.
That’s generally going to be the easiest way to get them into your daily routine.
If you’re less inclined to go down the supplement route then the good news is, prebiotics are found in loads of foods that are probably already in your diet!
Here are some prebiotic rich foods:
- Cooked onion
And the list goes on! Heaps of your everyday fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, will contain prebiotics so it shouldn’t be a challenge to increase them in your diet.
As this research article states, your gastrointestinal flora plays a crucial role in metabolic, and immune health. It’s also “one of the most densely populated microbial communities on earth” – that’s pretty awesome.
This gut health can be influenced by so many environmental, dietary and lifestyle factors. It’s important to give your body the best chance at maintaining good gut health. Introducing prebiotics and probiotics into your diet is essential to this process.