The Difference Between Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics and How They Affect Our Gut Bacteria and Immune System

Blog Health The Difference Between Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics and How They Affect Our Gut Bacteria and Immune System

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6.10.2021 0 comments

Probiotics are all the rage these days!

Health and fitness experts, dieticians, and nutritionists just can’t stop talking about probiotics and their many amazing benefits.

The truth is that probiotics are incredibly good for your health, thanks to their effect on your gut bacteria—and all the secondary effects that result from better intestinal health.

But what are probiotics, exactly? How are they different from prebiotics or synbiotics?

Below, we’re going to take a closer look at what these three “biotics” are, and how they can each benefit you specifically.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotic microorganisms—better known as “probiotics”—are, simply put, bacteria that benefit your body. A few of the more common strains include [1]:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG

  • Bifidobacteria

  • Strains of L. acidophilus

  • Strains of L. casei

  • L. reuteri

These bacteria are often found in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, probiotic yogurts, kimchi, and kombucha. However, the same bacteria are found in the human intestines, and they play a huge role in both digestion and maintaining a healthy balance in the gut.

Probiotics help to modulate the intestinal microflora, encouraging better gut function overall. Studies have proven [2] that probiotics improve immune health as well by increasing mucosal immune stimulation and improving your body’s ability to destroy pathogens. They can even help your body to adapt to new threats, increasing the overall effectiveness of your immune system.

Other benefits of probiotics include:

  • Reduced risk of diarrhea due to lactose intolerance, rotovirus, and antibiotics

  • Reduced presence of cancer-promoting enzymes in the gut

  • Reduced putrefactive metabolites in your intestines

  • Improved gastrointestinal health, and reduced prevalence of unspecific and irregular complaints

  • Reduced inflammation, particularly inflammation caused by IBD, H. pylori, and other bacteria

  • Improved passing of stool, better stool consistency

  • Reduced risk of respiratory tract infections

  • Reduced risk of urogenital infections

  • Reduced risk of atopic diseases and allergies

As you can see, there are a lot of amazing benefits to probiotics!

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics function similar to probiotics in that they improve gut health, but that’s where the similarity ends. Prebiotics don’t contain any bacteria—instead, they’re “selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well being and health” [1].

Simply put, they’re special forms of dietary fiber (naturally found in certain foods) that act as “nourishment” for the gut bacteria.

Fiber doesn’t get broken down in your stomach or absorbed via your small intestines. Instead, it’s passed through your large intestines and whatever isn’t consumed by your gut bacteria gets eliminated. Prebiotics, however, are special fibers that your gut bacteria love, that feed the intestinal microflora and causes it to flourish.

Foods that contain this type of fiber include [3]:

  • Apples

  • Chicory root

  • Garlic

  • Barley

  • Dandelion greens

  • Konjac root

  • Asparagus

  • Leeks and onions

  • Wheat bran

  • Cocoa

  • Bananas

  • Jerusalem artichoke

  • Flaxseeds

  • Jicama

Prebiotics have some pretty amazing benefits, too. By nourishing your gut bacteria, prebiotics can improve digestion, reduce both diarrhea and constipation, improve the metabolism of your gut bacteria, reduce intestinal cancer risk, increase fat metabolism, increase the absorption of minerals, and, most important of all, increase your gut bacteria’s ability to protect your body from disease. The immunomodulatory effects of prebiotics make them nearly as effective at boosting immune function as probiotics [4].

What are Synbiotics?

Synbiotics are a lesser-known, less-talked-about option, but one that combines the effectiveness of both probiotics and prebiotics—literally!

Synbiotics are a synergistic combination of both “biotics”, creating a food that not only provides reinforcements for your gut bacteria, but also feeds them the dietary fiber they need to flourish.

Most synbiotics are supplements that have the prebiotic and probiotic ingredients combined. However, some natural synbiotics include pickled or fermented foods, such as legumes or high-fiber vegetables [5].

Multiple studies have linked probiotics and prebiotics to improved health and a drastic reduction in a wide number of diseases—everything from intestinal cancer to digestive disorders to skin conditions [6]! While probiotics provide more gut bacteria, prebiotics feed the bacteria already there and encourage them to multiply, increasing their activity. The result: a much healthier body.

If you want to improve your health, it’s definitely a good idea to start including more prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet. Eating more fermented and fiber-rich foods can go a long way toward improving your intestinal health, boosting your immune response, even helping your body absorb more of the vital nutrients from the other foods you eat. You’ll never go wrong by taking care of your gut bacteria—on the contrary, it will make you a healthier, happier person in the long run!

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