Prebiotics vs probiotics - what's the difference and do you need more?

Sep 15 2020Sam

Prebiotics vs probiotics - what's the difference and do you need more?

When it comes to prebiotics and probiotics, people often aren’t sure what the difference is and why we need them. Here I explain what they are and how you can up your intake to support your digestion through your diet and the use of supplements.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria that offer a number of potential health benefits for our digestive system. We naturally have billions of bacteria lining the length of our digestive tract and interestingly there are both good and bad strains present there. They key to good health is to achieve an optimal balance throughout. If the levels of bad bacteria start to overtake the good, we may experience digestive symptoms such as bloating or flatulence, but actually, research suggest that an imbalance in gut bacteria could cause problems elsewhere; potentially affecting many systems of our body from our mood to weight management!

By topping up our numbers of friendly bacteria, we can help protect this delicate balance and this is where probiotics such as the Optibac range come in. These are specific strains of bacteria that we know happily reside in the gut and exert beneficial effects.

In terms of the main types of friendly bacteria, firstly, we have Lactobacilli bacteria. These bacteria produce beneficial L+ lactic acid, and tend to reside mainly in the small intestine. Next, we have Bifidobacteria which tend to be found primarily in our large intestine – both of which are common strains found in probiotic products.

So, in summary, we can think of probiotics as a means of replenishing our good gut bacteria.

What are prebiotics?

Now that we know what probiotics are, where do prebiotics come into all of this? Prebiotics aren’t bacteria themselves, but they are instead components which help support the growth of these beneficial bacteria. These can fall broadly into two main categories:

1 – Act as food for the bacteria

Firstly, we have prebiotics which help to physicallyfeed the bacteria in your gut, these mainly come in the form of dietary fibre. Inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides are common examples which can be found naturally occurring in foods or taken in supplement form.

2 - Support the surrounding environment for the bacteria

Next, we have substances that work as prebiotics as they help to support the environment in which the friendly bacteria in your gut live. This means they can multiply and grow stronger and the prebiotics, rather than act as a source of food, they almost act a bit like the air they need to breathe (although of course they are technically anaerobic). A good example of a prebiotic which works in this way is L+ lactic acid which is the primary ingredient of A.Vogel’s Molkosan. Friendly bacteria in the gut naturally produce L+ lactic acid, so we know that this is something that is beneficial for them. Lactic acid also helps support the pH in the gut, creating more favourable conditions for the surrounding bacteria. Fermented whey is an example of a good source of L+ lactic acid.

We can think of prebiotics as a means of nourishing our good gut bacteria.

Can they work well together?

Prebiotic and probiotics are growing gradually in popularity, but what’s the best approach in order to support your gut optimally?

1 - My advice is to start with a prebiotic. As we now know, prebiotics help to support the internal environment of the gut so it makes sense to start here and set this right before adding in lots of probiotics which might not necessarily survive.

Starting with a prebiotic such as Molkosan can be useful. Rich in L+lactic acid, this helps to gently support the pH of the gut. Other options which you can find in your local health food store include supplements such as inulin which comes from chicory, or FOS powders. Just be sure not to take too much too quickly or you could experience some bloating.

2 - Then, once the good bacteria that already exist are happier, you can begin to top up your numbers; and that’s were probiotics come in. Prebiotics and probiotics work synergistically together, so this is a great option to add in to your prebiotic regime. When it comes to the probiotic portion, opt for a reputable brand such as Optibac with lots of research behind them for best results!