The terms prebiotic and probiotic sound similar, but they are very different in terms of the function each performs in the digestive system.
Probiotics may be the better known of the two terms, as many people today are adding these living organisms to their diet to attain greater digestive health. Prebiotics, on the other hand, may not be as “mainstream” a term, but just as important when it comes to optimal functioning of the digestive system.
A 2016 article published in the journal Nutrients noted that alterations to the microorganisms that live in our intestines (our gut microbiota) constitute one of the most probable factors in the development of certain disorders, such as obesity, systemic inflammation, and oxidative stress, among other metabolic diseases.
Further, the article informs that prebiotics and probiotics can improve the gut microbiota in a way that leads to improvements in some of these disorders. So, what does current research tell us about the contributions of prebiotics and probiotics to a healthy gut? Let’s take a quick look.
Prebiotics are non-digestible substances found in certain foods that we eat that act as food for our gut microbiota which are those microorganisms, like bacteria, that live in our intestines.
Prebiotics found in food such as whole grains, bananas, garlic, honey, and artichokes, stimulate the growth or activity of certain healthy bacteria living in our body.
Let’s take a look at one example of a prebiotic, the benefits it conveys to the gut microbiota and the foods that contain it:
Inulin: A 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that inulin was able to significantly stimulate two beneficial bacteria of the colon, Bifidobacterium adolescentis, and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.
B. adolescentis has anti-viral effects, is colonized in the gut after birth and remains stable until late adulthood when they begin to decline due to stress, poor diet, and antibiotic use.
F. prausnitzii has anti-inflammatory effects and is one of the most abundant bacteria found in the gut. When F. prausnitzii is found to be low in number, inflammatory bowel disease becomes more common.
Some food sources of inulin include asparagus, bananas, jicama, leeks, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, and chicory and dandelion roots.
Probiotics are “good bacteria” or live cultures that help to protect the body from harmful bacteria, support immune function, reduce inflammation, and produce nutrients like vitamin B12.
Consuming probiotics in our food, like fermented vegetables (in brine, not vinegar) and high-quality yogurt or sour cream with live and active cultures, can help our bodies to absorb nutrients and fight infections.
Let’s take a look at one example of a probiotic, the benefits it conveys, and the foods that contain it:
Bacillus subtilis: A 2016 study published in PloS One found Bacillus subtilis to improve acute infectious diarrhea in young children, suppress traveler’s diarrhea caused by pathogens, and contribute to a healthy digestive system.
Also, Bacillus subtilis is a resilient strain that supports enzyme production, like amylase and lipase, which are instrumental to digestive health.
Bacillus subtilis is found commonly in water, soil, air and decomposing plant residue, and some food sources such as fermented soybeans (natto), and locust beans.
There are many different groups of good bacteria (probiotics), and each strain (type) can have a specific role in keeping us healthy. For example, Bifidobacterium is a group of good bacteria and two strains (types) of this group include B. bifidum which has been found to exert anti-bacterial properties against pathogens like H. pylori and B. infantis which has been shown to relieve symptoms of IBS.
Ultimately, prebiotics and probiotics work together to keep our gut and our body healthy.
The probiotics restore and improve our gut health, while the prebiotics feed these “good bacteria” that help to keep us healthy.
Jeremiah 30:17: “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD, because they have called you an outcast: 'It is Zion, for whom no one cares!'”
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