Probiotics vs Prebiotics

May 25, 2015

   Yesterday one of my clients asked me about probiotics. You see, she's having some digestive issues and we've already altered her diet in hopes of alleviating them. It's been somewhat successful but she still suffers from some of these problems. Like many of us she went to the internet and she researched the differences between probiotics or prebiotics.

Prebiotics? Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts sometimes called "the good" microorganisms. They benefit the body, specifically the digestive system. Probiotics exist naturally in your gut but can be found in foods and supplements. Our bodies don't naturally need extra probiotics but there are times that this little boost can help keep us healthy. A few ways they can help is by decreasing the amount of bad bacteria in your gut which cause infection or inflammation. When we take antibiotics we loose some of those good bacteria and probiotics help to replace those that we lose. Also once restored our bodies then can function better.

Prebiotics are basically the metabolic fuel for probiotics. It’s a term that encompasses a number of mostly carbohydrates that are present in vegetables and grains. They are only partially digested by the human intestinal tract, so they reach the colon where they are fermented by bacteria.
  When the microbial balance is off in the intestines, it can result in many digestive issues. These include diarrhea, inflammation or irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, tooth decay or stomach infections.

Where are probiotics found in our bodies?

   They are found naturally in our intestines. Saccharomyces boulardii (a yeast) helps protect our intestines from pathogens and other things that can damage the intestinal lining. It also controls different parts of your immune system and keeps the intestinal barrier up and running. Doctors have associated defects in the intestinal barrier function with different gastrointestinal diseases. Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are two probiotic microorganisms commonly found in the gut that can metabolize lactose, a type of sugar found in milk. These  bacteria aid in the treatment of disorders such as lactose intolerance and antibiotic-associated diarrhea, according to

Yogurt and Soy

   Both lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are present in certain brands of yogurt. In the early 20th century Elie Metchnikoff, a Russian biologist who won a Nobel Prize for discoveries in immunity, observed a tendency towards health and longevity in Bulgarian people whose diet was high in yogurt. There is even a named a strain of probiotic bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, after those avid Bulgarian yogurt consumers. Lactobacillus can also be added to soy for those who abstain from milk. Remember to read labels when looking for these organisms in foods.


   Living in our gut are trillions of bacteria that weigh as much as 4 pounds altogether. Scientists call this environment a microbiome, and it is turning out to be understood as the key to general health. Without the good bacteria in our gut we would die. In fact, studies show that fast food throws the balance of good and bad bacteria populations off so much it may have a direct correlation to heart disease, obesity, and cancer. When you hear it said that our bodies make vitamins it actually is the bacteria which do that, as well as a lot of digestion duties.

   Those bacteria live on certain substrates--the prebiotics--from our food which they ferment. One reason you might take prebiotics is to encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut by providing them the food they like. Prebiotics are classified as soluble fiber. When considering the benefits of dietary fiber you must include soluble fiber. It's the stuff that the digestive system cannot process nor digest and acts as a lubricant for bowel stimulation. By using supplements with the prebiotics such as inulin and oligofructose, the entire bowel wall is treated. 

   Eating a few servings of vegetables and fruit every day, supplemented with prebiotics, has been shown to increase the number of healthy bacteria in the colon. And raw foods contain prebiotics, too, like are chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks,onion (raw and cooked), asparagus, wheat bran, radishes, tumeric, carrots and beans among others. Your weight, mood, mental clarity, and overall health will improve significantly. Your heart will thank you, too. Higher intakes of dietary fiber are linked to less cardiovascular disease.

   The bottom line is that bacteria are critical to health. We want to maintain the right balance for the health of our intestines, our immune system and our life.