As you’re taking your morning walk, you might not realize it, but there are trillions (yes, with a T) of bacteria living within your digestive tract. They not only aid in vitamin absorption, but they also help our colons to function and aid in the prevention of diseases, such as colon cancer, and help with immune system function.
Our bodies are an incredibly complex system. We are most likely to notice this when something is going wrong, which leads us to become often painfully aware just how everything is connected. When you take antibiotics, they not only kill the bug you’re trying to get rid of, but they also throw off the delicate balance of good or “friendly” bacteria. If this imbalance is continued, even due to stress, it can lead to an increase in bad bacteria and yeast in your system, which can cause yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome and even rheumatoid arthritis.
Your colon has an important job. After the small intestine has absorbed important nutrients, the colon removes water from the food we’ve eaten so that waste materials can be passed from our bodies. Too much or too little water, and things do not go quite as planned, leading to diarrhea or constipation respectively. This is where prebiotics and probiotics come in.
What’s the Difference?
With so many articles out there, it can become confusing. Prebiotics are, simply put, fiber within foods we already eat that nourishes the friendly bacteria in our bodies, while making the same space unwelcome to bacteria that is harmful to us. Prebiotics encourage good bacteria to form short-chain-fatty-acids, which lower the pH of your colon. This allows the good bacteria to thrive, while hopefully killing the bad.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, as well as yogurt and Kefir. The two main strains of probiotics are lactobacillis and bifidobacterium. Some companies have engineered and even patented their own “friendly bacteria” but they are a strain of one of those two. The rest is all about marketing.
Where Can I Find Them?
As mentioned, they are both found in the foods you eat. Prebiotics are found in beans, oats, broccoli, carrots, bananas, sweet potatoes, and berries, among other foods. If your diet is not rich enough in fiber, there are powders available to supplement your intake. Probiotics are clearly labeled on products that contain them, but many labels can be misleading. While honey can contain probiotics, it is not a probiotic in itself. There are supplements in capsule form that may be purchased. The main difference between prebiotic and probiotic supplements is that more care must be taken with prebiotics in order to keep the bacteria alive. Most supplements must be refrigerated. This keeps the bacteria at least in a state of dormancy.