Saturday, October 4, 2008

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

I recently noticed the terms "probiotic" and "prebiotic" on yogurt packaging and advertisements. I had heard of probiotics before, and assumed them to be the "live and active cultures" that give yogurt its supposed health benefits. I was not 100% sure of this, however, and "prebiotic" was certainly a new one to me, so I decided to look them up. Here's what I found:


As I originally suspected, probiotics refer to a group of microorganisms - bacteria and yeasts - that have potential health benefits. They generally must be live organisms to be truly considered probiotic. A precise definition (and health benefits) are actually in debate in the medical and health community.

These cultures are thought to help out the naturally occurring microbes in your stomach and intestinally tract. They can be implemented after a round of antibiotics to restore the natural "gut flora" of one's body. Some use probiotic products to prevent and treat certain illnesses and support general wellness. One thing to keep in mind - there are a wide number of microorganisms that are considered probiotic; and effects found from one species or strain of probiotics do not necessarily hold true for others, or even for different preparations of the same species or strain.

Yes, El Guapo, I would say there are a plethora of sources for probiotics. The two main ways to introduce them into a diet are through supplements and food. Since I view supplements with a high sense of skepticism, I would most likely recommend sticking with real food. Also, the probiotics must be alive to work, so supplements must be refrigerated like food anyhow. Probiotic foods include the aforementioned yogurt, as well as fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, kiefer, and some juices and soy drinks. Some may find these selections rather unappealing; but given the wide range of choices, there should be something for everyone's palate.


And now for the question of the day - What are prebiotics? Quite simply, they are food for probiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible (to humans) substances that can stimulate the growth and vitality of the microorganisms in one's digestive tract. Prebiotics are normally classified as carbohydrates, and quite often a type of fiber.

Prebiotics can be found in grains - such as soybeans, oats, wheat, and barley. Inulin - group of naturally occurring polysaccharides - is another source, and it can be derived from jerusalem artichoke, jicima, chicory root, and yacon (yeah, I've never heard of that either). Inulin is becoming widespread as a food additive for its wide range of characteristics and applications. Not only does it have probiotic properties, it contains much less caloric energy than sugar, it ranges from bland to subtly sweet, and it can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour.

Much like probiotics, prebiotics are not completely understood. Experts agree that adding them to one's diet is beneficial, but specific advice varies widely. Certain benefits include: intestinal regularity, increased mineral absorption, increased immune system response, and bowel pH adjustment. Be aware, however - a sudden increase in substaintial quantities of prebiotics have been shown to cause a temporary increase in gas, bloating and/or bowel movements. So take it easy - yikes.


Anonymous said...

This was very helpful. I am actually trying to figure out which baby formula would be better -the good start natural cultures or the similac advance early shield. one has probiotics and the other prebiotics. This blog explained alot!!!

Chief said...

I'm glad I could help...of course I would recommend talking with your pediatrician as well.

Anonymous said...

this blog was very helpful! i had assumed what probiotic was as well then saw prebiotic on a box of crackers and got to well!! lol. thanks for doing the research FOR me