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Probiotics and Prebiotics: The Dynamic Duo for a Healthy Gut Microbiome

Monday, March 11, 2024

Fresh Squeezed Blog/Gut Health/Probiotics and Prebiotics: The Dynamic Duo for a Healthy Gut Microbiome

Why is Gut Health Important?

The gut, also known as the digestive tract, is crucial to our health and well-being. It's responsible for breaking down food into nutrients that our bodies can use for energy, growth, and repair.

The gut is also home to many microorganisms, including good and bad bacteria. These microorganisms comprise the gut microbiome. They are critical in regulating our immune system, managing inflammation, and influencing our mood and behavior.

When the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is disrupted, it can lead to various health problems, including digestive issues, immune disorders, and even mental health issues like anxiety and depression. This is where probiotics and prebiotics come in.

Probiotics are live bacteria that help replenish good gut bacteria. At the same time, prebiotics are fibers that help feed the good bacteria already in the digestive tract. By including probiotics and prebiotics in our diet, we can help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut and promote overall health and well-being.

Intro to Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics are living microorganisms often found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. These foods are made by adding specific strains of beneficial bacteria to a base ingredient, such as milk, cabbage, or soybeans. During the fermentation, the bacteria consume the sugars and starches in the food, producing lactic acid and other compounds that give fermented foods their characteristic tangy flavor and texture.

Conversely, prebiotics are fiber in certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They are not living organisms but serve as food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Some examples of prebiotic foods include bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, oats, and barley.

By including various probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods in our diet, we can help support the growth and health of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This can have multiple health benefits, from improved digestion and regularity to better immune function and a reduced risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

I will break it down even more, but first, let’s start with probiotics…

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that benefit our health, particularly our gut health. They are often described as "good bacteria" because they help to keep the balance of bacteria in our gut in check.

Probiotics are a type of bacteria that are similar to the beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in our gut. When we consume probiotics, they help to replenish the good bacteria that may be lost due to factors such as antibiotic use, poor diet, stress, or illness. Probiotics can help to improve digestion, reduce inflammation, boost immune function, and even support mental health.

Common examples of probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, and miso. These foods are made by adding specific strains of beneficial bacteria to a base ingredient and allowing them to ferment. The resulting product is rich in live, active cultures of beneficial bacteria that can help to support our gut health.

In addition to food sources, probiotics are also available in supplement forms, such as capsules or powders. These supplements can provide a concentrated dose of specific strains of beneficial bacteria, which may be particularly useful for individuals with particular health concerns, such as digestive issues or compromised immune function. However, it's important to note that not all probiotic supplements are created equal. Choosing a high-quality product tested for purity and potency is essential.

Common Probiotic-Rich Foods

  • Yogurt: Yogurt is a popular fermented dairy product rich in probiotics. Common strains of probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Look for yogurt containing live and active cultures, which provide beneficial bacteria.
  • Kefir: Kefir is a fermented dairy drink similar to yogurt but has a thinner consistency. It is also rich in probiotics, including strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as well as yeasts that help to promote gut health.
  • Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is a traditional German dish made from fermented cabbage. It is rich in probiotics, specifically strains of Lactobacillus, and can help to improve digestion and boost immune function.
  • Kimchi: Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish from fermented vegetables, typically cabbage or radish. It is rich in probiotics; common strains of probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and it can help to support gut health and boost immunity.
  • Tempeh: Tempeh is a fermented soybean product commonly used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan diets. It is rich in probiotics, specifically strains of Rhizopus fungi and Lactobacillus bacteria, which can help to improve digestion and support immune function.
  • Yogurt: Yogurt is a popular fermented dairy product rich in probiotics. Common strains of probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Look for yogurt containing live and active cultures, which provide beneficial bacteria.
  • Kefir: Kefir is a fermented dairy drink similar to yogurt but has a thinner consistency. It is also rich in probiotics, including strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as well as yeasts that help to promote gut health.
  • Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is a traditional German dish made from fermented cabbage. It is rich in probiotics, specifically strains of Lactobacillus, and can help to improve digestion and boost immune function.
  • Kimchi: Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish from fermented vegetables, typically cabbage or radish. It is rich in probiotics; common strains of probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and it can help to support gut health and boost immunity.
  • Tempeh: Tempeh is a fermented soybean product commonly used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan diets. It is rich in probiotics, specifically strains of Rhizopus fungi and Lactobacillus bacteria, which can help to improve digestion and support immune function.

By including various probiotic-rich foods in our diet, we can help support the growth and health of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This can have multiple health benefits, from improved digestion and bowel regularity to better immune function and a reduced risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

What About Probiotic Supplements?

Probiotic supplements are a convenient way to consume beneficial bacteria, particularly for individuals who may not be able to consume probiotic-rich foods regularly or who have specific health concerns.

Probiotic supplements come in many forms, including capsules, powders, and liquids. They can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a healthcare professional. When selecting a probiotic supplement, it's essential to choose a high-quality product that contains a variety of strains of beneficial bacteria, as different strains may provide various health benefits.

It's also important to note that not all probiotic supplements are created equal, and some may not contain the advertised amount or type of bacteria. To ensure a high-quality product, look for supplements tested for purity and potency by a third-party organization, such as the US Pharmacopeia or the International Probiotics Association.

Following the recommended dosage instructions for the specific supplement is also essential. Taking too much or too little may not provide the desired health benefits. Additionally, it's always a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement regimen, particularly if you have any underlying health concerns or are taking medications that may interact with the supplement.

Ideally, when picking a probiotic, you want one with at least eight different strains of microbes because this diversity will provide the most health benefits. My favorite 8-strain probiotic supplement is Probiotic Restore-8 Shelf Stable probiotic.

Probiotic Restore-8

This probiotic is shelf-stable, meaning you don’t need to worry about keeping it in the refrigerator, and it can withstand stomach acid! These probiotics can colonize the upper part of your digestive tract (mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine) because they like and can grow in oxygen-rich environments. Once you get closer and enter the large intestines, the oxygen no longer exists, and only certain species of bacteria can survive there. One such species is Akkermansia muciniphlia, which translates to “mucus loving.” This microbe is one of the nine keystone species required for a healthy, balanced, diverse microbiome.

Akkermansia 100 Pro

Until recently, we could not supplement this probiotic species because it does not do well in an oxygenated environment. You could lose this vital species forever if you were born via c-section or prescribed tons of antibiotics. Now you can use the supplement manufactured by Pendulum to replace your low Akkermansia colonies in your gut!

I think that's enough about probiotics, for now, let's dig into prebiotics…​

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are types of fiber that the human body cannot directly digest. Instead, they pass through the digestive system and provide food and nourishment for the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. Prebiotics essentially act as a "fertilizer" for the good bacteria in our gut, helping them to grow and thrive.

Prebiotics can be found in many plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Some common examples of prebiotic-rich foods include:​

  • Bananas: Bananas are a great source of prebiotics, specifically a type of fiber called inulin. Inulin helps to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to improved digestion and a more robust immune system.
  • Garlic: Garlic is a flavorful herb rich in prebiotics, specifically fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS helps to feed the good bacteria in our gut, leading to better digestive health and a more robust immune system.
  • Onions: Onions are another flavorful vegetable rich in prebiotics, specifically FOS. Adding onions to your meals can help support the growth and health of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Whole grains: Whole grains, such as oats, barley, and brown rice, are rich in prebiotics, specifically a fiber called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan helps to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to improved digestive health and an efficient immune system.
  • Legumes: Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, navy beans, and black beans, are rich in prebiotics, specifically a type of fiber called resistant starch. Resistant starch helps to feed specific good bacteria in our gut, leading to better digestive health and a stronger immune system.
  • Bananas: Bananas are a great source of prebiotics, specifically a type of fiber called inulin. Inulin helps to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to improved digestion and a more robust immune system.
  • Garlic: Garlic is a flavorful herb rich in prebiotics, specifically fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS helps to feed the good bacteria in our gut, leading to better digestive health and a more robust immune system.
  • Onions: Onions are another flavorful vegetable rich in prebiotics, specifically FOS. Adding onions to your meals can help support the growth and health of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Whole grains: Whole grains, such as oats, barley, and brown rice, are rich in prebiotics, specifically a fiber called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan helps to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to improved digestive health and an efficient immune system.
  • Legumes: Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, navy beans, and black beans, are rich in prebiotics, specifically a type of fiber called resistant starch. Resistant starch helps to feed specific good bacteria in our gut, leading to better digestive health and a stronger immune system.

By including a variety of prebiotic-rich foods in our diet, we can help to support the growth and health of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This can have various health benefits, from improved digestion and regularity to better immune function and a reduced risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Supplementing with Prebiotics

Prebiotic supplements typically come in capsules or powders and contain concentrated prebiotic fiber. When selecting a prebiotic supplement, choosing a high-quality product containing the specific prebiotic fiber shown to provide health benefits is crucial.

Rebalance Prebiotic Powder

My favorite prebiotic supplement is the Rebalance Prebiotic Powder because it contains a combination of arabinogalactan and inulin. Both of these prebiotics can do wonders in rebalancing the microbiome. Arabinogalactan and inulin appear to be able to selectively increase the growth of beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus, Bacteroidetes, and Bifidobacterium).
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34004416/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352398/

It's also important to note that too much prebiotic fiber too quickly may cause digestive discomfort, such as gas, bloating, or diarrhea. If you note worsening digestive symptoms when adding probiotics or prebiotics to your supplement routine, it may be because you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Most probiotics contain varying amounts of prebiotic fibers to help the good bacteria grow. They may cause some of the same problems with just taking prebiotic supplements. These fibers may feed the dysbiotic microbes and cause them to produce compounds and gasses that may make you uncomfortable and unwell.

As with probiotic supplements, it's always a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement regimen, particularly if you have any underlying health concerns or are taking medications that may interact with the supplement. Additionally, following the recommended dosage instructions for the specific supplement is essential. Taking too much or too little may not provide the desired health benefits.

How does Prebiotics Support Health?

Prebiotics play a crucial role in supporting gut health through lifestyle factors. By consuming a diet rich in prebiotic fiber, we can help nourish the beneficial bacteria in our gut and support their growth and health.

In addition to consuming prebiotic-rich foods and supplements, other lifestyle factors can help to support the growth and health of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These include:

  • Avoiding overuse of antibiotics: As mentioned earlier, antibiotics can kill off harmful and beneficial gut bacteria. When antibiotics are necessary, it's important to take them as directed by a healthcare professional and to follow up with probiotics and prebiotics to help restore and support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Regular exercise: Exercise can help increase blood flow and oxygen to the gut, supporting the growth and health of beneficial bacteria.
  • Stress reduction: Stress can harm gut health, so engaging in stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises is vital.
  • Getting enough sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and lead to a weakened immune system. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to support overall gut health.
  • ​Avoiding overuse of antibiotics: As mentioned earlier, antibiotics can kill off harmful and beneficial gut bacteria. When antibiotics are necessary, it's important to take them as directed by a healthcare professional and to follow up with probiotics and prebiotics to help restore and support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Regular exercise: Exercise can help increase blood flow and oxygen to the gut, supporting the growth and health of beneficial bacteria.
  • Stress reduction: Stress can harm gut health, so engaging in stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises is vital.
  • Getting enough sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and lead to a weakened immune system. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to support overall gut health.

By incorporating prebiotics into our diet and engaging in these lifestyle factors, we can help to support the growth and health of beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to improved digestive health, better immune function, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: What is the difference?

Probiotics and prebiotics are substances that have distinct roles in supporting gut health. Probiotics are live bacteria in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso. These beneficial bacteria can also be taken in the form of supplements.

When we consume probiotics, they travel through the digestive tract and go to the colon, interacting with other bacteria in the gut. These probiotics can help to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, support immune function, and improve digestive health.

On the other hand, prebiotics are a fiber found in many plant-based foods such as bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichoke. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not live bacteria themselves. Instead, they are the fiber that passes through the digestive tract largely undigested until they reach the colon.

Once in the colon, prebiotic fibers are fermented by the bacteria living there, including the beneficial bacteria we want to promote. This fermentation process produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), an energy source for the cells that line the colon and can help reduce gut inflammation. These beneficial compounds produced through fermentation are also known as post-biotics. Prebiotics also help increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, improving overall gut health.  

Probiotics are live bacteria found in fermented foods or supplements, while prebiotics are fibers found in many plant-based foods. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Probiotics provide live beneficial bacteria, while prebiotics promote the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria. Postbiotics are the products produced by the probiotics after digesting the prebiotics, which benefit the host (you!).​

Conclusion

Maintaining good gut health is vital for overall health and well-being. The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, collectively known as the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome plays a critical role in several bodily processes, including digestion, absorption of nutrients, immune function, and even mental health.

An imbalanced gut microbiome, with an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, has been linked to various health issues, including digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, allergies, and even mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Conversely, a healthy and diverse gut microbiome can help to support a healthy immune system, improve digestion, and reduce inflammation in the body.

Probiotics and prebiotics are both critical for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics are live bacteria found in fermented foods and supplements. At the same time, prebiotics are fibers in certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Probiotics provide beneficial live bacteria that can help to support a healthy gut microbiome. At the same time, prebiotics gives these bacteria the fuel to thrive. Including probiotics and prebiotics in a healthy diet can help to keep a diverse and balanced gut microbiome.

There are many simple and delicious ways to incorporate probiotics and prebiotics into a child's diet. Here are some ideas:

  • ​Yogurt with banana slices: Yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics, and bananas are a good source of prebiotic fiber. Mixing sliced bananas into plain yogurt can create a tasty and nutritious snack.
  • Roasted garlic spread on bread: Garlic is a good source of prebiotic fiber, and roasting garlic can give it a delicious and mild flavor. Mashing roasted garlic on whole-grain bread can make a tasty and healthy snack or side dish.
  • Fruit salad with berries: Berries are a good source of prebiotic fiber and can be mixed with other fruits to create a delicious and nutritious snack or dessert.
  • Vegetable soup with miso: Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is a good source of probiotics. Adding miso to a vegetable soup can create a delicious and healthy meal.
  • Hummus with raw vegetables: Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are a good source of prebiotic fiber. Serving hummus with raw vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers can make a tasty and nutritious snack.
  • ​Yogurt with banana slices: Yogurt is an excellent source of probiotics, and bananas are a good source of prebiotic fiber. Mixing sliced bananas into plain yogurt can create a tasty and nutritious snack.
  • Roasted garlic spread on bread: Garlic is a good source of prebiotic fiber, and roasting garlic can give it a delicious and mild flavor. Mashing roasted garlic on whole-grain bread can make a tasty and healthy snack or side dish.
  • Fruit salad with berries: Berries are a good source of prebiotic fiber and can be mixed with other fruits to create a delicious and nutritious snack or dessert.
  • Vegetable soup with miso: Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is a good source of probiotics. Adding miso to a vegetable soup can create a delicious and healthy meal.
  • Hummus with raw vegetables: Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are a good source of prebiotic fiber. Serving hummus with raw vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers can make a tasty and nutritious snack.

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Important Disclaimer: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only; it is NOT meant to substitute professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should NOT use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem/disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.

Dr. Giovanni Nelson

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