The basic difference between probiotics and prebiotics is that probiotics are living organisms while prebiotics are what these organisms feed on! Read on to find out more..
Our human body is a host to plethora of microorganisms. Some of these organisms may cause harm to your body, while others actually benefit you in many ways. Probiotic bacteria are a species of beneficial bacteria which reside in the human gut and assist in digestive function, amongst other functions. These bacteria are naturally present in the intestinal tract and thrive thereby competing with 1000 other bacterial species. Sometimes, the population of these bacteria depletes owing to some reason. During such times, prebiotics can help in restoring probiotic bacteria.
Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics
While probiotics have been in use for quite a long time, prebiotics are a recent addition in the market that work towards the health and well-being of an individual. Incidentally, many people do not know the exact difference between the two and may assume one for the other.
Probiotics are living microorganisms of plant origin. They are essentially algae, hence are also called gut flora. Probiotic bacteria are present in the human gut right from birth. Hence, one need not usually bother about their population and function. However, these bacteria have to continuously outdo other microbes in the body, which may sometimes threaten their population.
Besides, antibiotic treatments may indiscriminately kill all the bacteria in your body, including the probiotic ones. In such cases, you may need to ingest your body with external probiotics. Live cultures of some probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, etc., are present in some dietary sources. Yogurt, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc., are all sources of probiotics.
Prebiotics on the other hand are carbohydrates of the type ‘fructo-oligosaccharides’. These are essentially short chained sugar molecules, which contain fructose. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers which provide nourishment to probiotics. As these sugar molecules cannot be broken down, they are directly carried to the bowels, where probiotics can feed on them. Asparagus, garlic, onions, berries, bananas, tomatoes, spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens, lentils, whole grains, oats, barley and wheat are some prebiotic sources.
As already mentioned above, probiotics assist digestive function in the body and also help in keeping your gut disease free. A healthy balance of intestinal bacteria is required for the proper functioning of the body. Whenever the population of gut flora diminishes, your body becomes susceptible to various diseases and infections such as yeast infection, etc. You may also experience conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or rheumatoid arthritis as a result of imbalance of gut flora.
Some of the common health benefits of probiotics include:
- Treating diarrhea
- Curing IBS
- Preventing and treating urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Reducing chances of bladder cancer
- Shortening the duration of intestinal infections
- Preventing and controlling child eczema
- Treating an inflammatory condition called pouchitis that follows colon surgery
Prebiotics create a hostile environment for harmful bacteria in the gut, thereby promoting the growth of beneficial ones. Prebiotics strengthen the immune system, thereby reducing the incidences of infections. They also aid in better absorption of calcium and magnesium in the body. Besides, they also reduce the risk factors associated with colon and rectal cancer.
Thus, probiotics and prebiotics are essential to maintain the balance of beneficial bacteria in the body. Hence, make sure you eat foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics. Some pharmaceutical companies have patented certain species of probiotics and sell them as supplements. Thus, you have an option of taking probiotic and prebiotic supplements in addition to your regular diet. Although, probiotics and prebiotics are generally safe for everyone, it is recommended that you consult your doctor first.