If you’ve heard of probiotics you’ve probably also heard of prebiotics. But you’re probably also a little confused about what prebiotics are, what they do, and whether you actually need them or not.
To understand the difference, consider the prefix: PRO and PRE.
The term “pro-biotics” literally translates as ‘for life’. That’s because probiotics live in your gut, helping to break down food that you eat and helping your body to absorb nutrients and enzymes. This supports overall health.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, means “before life” – because they ‘feed’ the good bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fiber such as fructo-oligosaccharides, inulin and polysaccharides that cannot be broken down by your digestive system. They pass through your small intestine undigested and end up in your colon, where they are fermented.
This fermentation process is carried out the bacteria in your large intestine, which is why this prebiotic fiber is considered to be ‘food’ for these bacteria. (1)
In theory, prebiotics give your healthy bacteria the fuel and nourishment they need to thrive and are often recommended for supporting the microbiome of your digestive system.
However, a high intake of prebiotics can lead to a high amount of fermentation – and that’s not always a good thing.
According to the Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, a prebiotic is only a prebiotic if it targets the good bacteria in the gut. But while we may be led to believe that using prebiotics to ‘feed’ the probiotics in your gut could only be beneficial, it’s not always the case. (2)
In fact, formulas that contain a combination of probiotics and prebiotic may not be the best choice for your gut health at all.
You see, there are hundreds of different species of bacteria and yeast living in our gut. All of them – the good and the bad – have the ability to break down prebiotic fibers into energy.
Research has shown that a large intake of prebiotics can cause digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating – which are often the reasons people look for gut health supplements in the first place!
Yes, prebiotics do increase the overall number of bacteria in your digestive system. But while this is often touted as a good thing, what you really want is better diversity – not just higher amounts of bacteria all round. Although prebiotics will feed the good bacteria in your gut, they’ll also feed the bad!
It’s for this reason that supplementing with prebiotics is not always recommended for people with digestive issues.
Taking large amounts of prebiotics can potentially worsen digestive symptoms or lead to the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or yeast overgrowth.
This is because the prebiotics can lead any bad bacteria or yeast in the gut to ferment out of control, creating even more gas and discomfort. (3)
Inulin, for example, is a well-known prebiotic. Unfortunately, inulin is known to feed bad bacteria, including Klebsiella, Clostridia, and E. coli. Also, when inulin is fermented by bacteria, it creates gas as a by-product. This can lead to bloating, abdominal distension and pain.
So, what should you use instead of prebiotic supplements?
That’s simple. Food!
Dietary supplements should never replace food. No matter how expensive or impressive a pill might be, it can’t deliver all of the nutrients and benefits of fresh, whole foods.
Whole foods contain a variety of the micronutrients your body needs to function properly. A particularly important component of whole foods is dietary fiber.
Fiber is essential for helping to prevent chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The fiber present in fruits and vegetables, nuts and grains also keep you “regular” by encouraging your bowels to move, and aids weight management by keeping you satiated.
Whole foods are also a good source of antioxidants – the protective substances that ward off free radicals, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage.
Simply put, if you’re eating a balanced diet with plenty of plant foods, you’re probably already getting enough prebiotics.
Prebiotics are present in plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains. Here’s a list of the foods that are not only rich in prebiotics but other nutrients too.
Yes, our Balance ONE Probiotic does contain a tiny amount of FOS, a natural prebiotic. It’s there to maximize the survivability of our probiotic bacteria on their way to your gut.
Each time-release tablet contains 25mg of FOS. But each tablet weighs approximately 750mg, so the FOS forms only around 3% of each tablet. In other words, it’s a really tiny amount that is not going to encourage any kind of overgrowth like SIBO or Candida.
For reference, a typical prebiotic powder might have a dosage of 7 grams. That’s about 300 times more than the amount of prebiotic in one of our tablets. And an onion contains around 3.5 grams of FOS, which is about 150 times the amount in one of our tablets :)
Remember – when improving your gut health, you should aim for quality, not quantity. A healthy diversity of bacteria is vital because different strains have different roles to play in your body.
This is why you should seek a quality probiotic supplement that contains a variety of strains of bacteria with a high CFU count. And as long as include plenty of prebiotic foods in your diet, you’ll be well on the way to a healthy gut!