If you were to ask someone at random in the street, they'll probably be able to tell you that probiotics are bacteria that we need in our intestines. A few people might even be able to tell you why. However, fewer people are aware of prebiotics and many think the word is just a misspelling of probiotics. Let me explain in a simple diagram the difference between probiotics and prebiotics.
In the diagram, the Pacman characters represent the living probiotic microorganisms. The circles represent their food, the prebiotics. If you are familiar with the game of Pacman, you’ll also recognise a ghost in that diagram. The ghost represents bad bacteria that also live in our gut. In a healthy gut, the good bacteria keep the bad bacteria in check.
Probiotics is the term given to the friendly microorganisms in our gut, but we also need to be aware that unfriendly microorganisms are also present.
Prebiotics are the non-digestible carbohydrates we eat, which are the food of the good bacteria. Most prebiotics are some form of fibre which explains one of the main reasons we should be eating a diet rich in fibre. Even though our bodies cannot digest fibre, the good bacteria can!
When we eat a healthy diet, the good bacteria thrive and prevent the bad bacteria from taking any kind of stranglehold in the gut.
The good probiotics in our intestines have been credited with w number of health benefits, including:
- Enhance out immune system. In fact, probiotics are our first line of defense against disease.
- Anti-inflammatory, and all disease starts with inflammation.
- Protect against certain types of cancer.
- Prevent overgrowth of bad microorganisms, including yeasts (candida anyone?). Recurring yeast infections in women can indicate that the healthy bacterial balance in the gut has been disturbed.
- Maintain a healthy pH in the gut.
- Improve digestions and absorption of a number of key nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
These points don’t even cover the health benefits associated with prebiotics, which include:
- Keep the good bacteria happy.
- Protect against early-stage colon cancer.
- Lower triglycerides.
- Help with regulation of blood sugars.
- Keep the food moving along the intestines for better digestion and absorption.
- Reduce appetite and increase satiety.
Why things go wrong
As you can see, there are a lot of great health benefits associated with probiotics living in our guts and the prebiotics that feed them. As long as the good bacteria are fed well, they can keep your intestines healthy. However, things can go wrong, and more often than not, a bad diet is the culprit. If you don’t feed your probiotics with prebiotics, then those good bacteria will not find things easy, and bad bacteria may start to take a hold in your gut.
Poor diet is not the only reason that bad bacteria may start to wreak havoc with your health.
If you’ve ever been to your doctor with a bacterial infection, then chances are you’ve been prescribed antibiotics to clear it up. Antibiotics work by killing off the bacteria that are making you sick. However, don’t forget that these antibiotics also have to pass through our intestines before they can be absorbed into the blood, and transported to the site of infection. Antibiotics are usually broad spectrum, meaning they work against a wide range of bacterial species. That means the antibiotics not only kill the bacteria causing your infection, but they will also kill off the bacteria in your gut, good or bad. This can lead to an imbalance in the numbers of good v bad, and that spells trouble.
The good bacteria have now lost control, and those health benefits we mentioned earlier? Well they’ve gone!
This website was created as a personal project of mine to look into the use of probiotics and prebiotics for better health. I’m particularly interested in finding out the best way to recover the healthy balance after the bad bacteria have taken hold. If that interests you too, I am sure you’ll enjoy my site!