Probiotics vs Prebiotics | How Microbes Promote Health

Did you know that bacteria was one of the first beings to inhabit the earth? 

Long before the evolution of mankind. 

Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that microbes play a pivotal role in overall health and wellbeing. 

Currently, we know of 2000 species of bacterium that colonise the gut. But the research is ongoing, and we’re finding out more about how they affect our health every day. 

These microbes are impacted by the food we eat, antibiotic exposure and stress. 

When it comes to diet, the good microbes in our gut, the ones that boost health and wellbeing, prefer prebiotics as a food source. 

The importance of prebiotics, as opposed to probiotics, is becoming increasingly apparent. 

Probiotics improve gut health. By introducing more good bacteria into your intestinal tract. 

In this article, we’ll explore the role of prebiotics and probiotics on health and the development of disease. So that you can make informed dietary choices to boost not only physical health but psychological health too. 

Sound good? Let’s dive in…

Probiotics vs Prebiotics | Can you Take Both Together?

The best way to think of probiotics would be as living strains of good bacteria. While prebiotics are plant fibres that serve as a food source for your good gut bacteria. Therefore, both are needed. Prebiotics can easily be consumed as part of a healthy diet. However, those who are unable to eat the amount of food required to boost gut health may want to take both a prebiotic and probiotic supplement together. 

It’s perfectly healthy to take both a prebiotic supplement and a probiotic supplement together.

Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes are two examples of good bacteria (probiotics) that promote health. In fact, both Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes are deficient in those suffering from obesity. In one study, genetically obese mice were fount to have 50% fewer Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes.

Working Together to Ward off Bacterial Disease

A balanced, diversified microbial community is optimal for health. One study of the indigenous Amazonian Yanomami tribe found that their hunter-gatherer lifestyle promoted diversity in their gut microbiomes, boosting overall health. They had double the amount of microbial diversity compared to the US participants studied. Suggesting that a natural, diverse diet is optimal for gut health, and to ward off disease. A gut teeming with good bacteria is the ideal antidote to bacterial disease. 

Alongside other nutraceuticals, probiotics have been found to inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria. In a study of elite rugby players, the athletes were given daily probiotics for four weeks and asked to fill in a daily diary to track symptoms of infection. 14 of the 30 taking probiotics didn’t experience any upper respiratory tract illness (URTI) or gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms compared to just 6 of the placebo group being clear of symptoms. This equates to 40% fewer instances of cold or stomach infection in the athletes taking probiotics. 

Prebiotics to Promote Heart Health

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease. Sadly, cardiovascular (heart) disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. In the UK heart and circulatory disease causes one death every three minutes. Heart disease is entirely preventable (in most cases) by following a predominantly plant-based whole foods diet and getting regular exercise. 

One 2014 study published in the journal Hypertension discovered that probiotics support healthy blood pressure. When you understand that stress can alter your gut microbes, and increases blood pressure. It becomes apparent that reducing stress and eating a diet rich in food that provides fuel for your microbes (prebiotics) is a must. 

Probiotics to Support the Immune System

One of the most important microbes that you should have in your gut is Bifidobacteria. This microbe supports the immune system and also inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Interestingly, infants who are breastfed have high levels of Bifidobacteria. This boost in the immune protective bacteria reduces after breastfeeding stops. 

Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum) helps to support the immune system by breaking down carbohydrates. B. longum also protects your body from free radicals by working as an antioxidant, further supporting your immune system. Another 2009 study exposed that probiotics reduced the incidence of fever by 50% for a single strain, and those who took a combined probiotic (with several strains were 73% less likely to have a fever. 

10 of the Best Natural Prebiotic-rich Foods

Prebiotic-rich foods are high in dietary fibre and natural sugars that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Fermenting foods, extracting nutrients and boosting digestion. Prebiotics help good bacteria grow and thrive while crowding out bad bacteria. Here are 10 of the best natural prebiotic-rich whole foods:

Can you get Probiotics from Food?

It’s popular to get your probiotics from supplementation, but you can also eat probiotic-rich foods. They’re made by fermenting foods like soya, vegetables or milk. Sauerkraut is one of the best (and easiest) probiotics to make. All you need is shredded cabbage and a mason jar. Other dietary sources of probiotics include – tempeh, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and gherkins, 

The Bottom Line

An imbalance or, more accurately, a severe reduction in the communities of good microbes is a factor that can impact all areas of life – from weight gain to brain development. However, a small change in your microbiome can also have far-reaching effects. The community of microbes in your gut help you digest food and ward off disease by working with your immune system. This delicate balance can be thrown out of whack by stress, processed foods, cigarettes, environmental toxins, or excess alcohol consumption.