Have you ever heard the words “gut health” and “probiotics” in a sentence and thought, “what are these people taking about?” or maybe you’re a bit more informed and thought, “oh, I’ve heard of this before, but what do they have in common again?”. Well, let me refresh your memory.
What are pre- and probiotics?
Our lecturers always described the concept to us like this: Probiotics are bacteria that are beneficial for your gut, and prebiotics are the “food” for these bacteria.
Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain food and supplements. These bacteria contribute to a healthy micro-organism environment in your gut and suppress potential harmful bacteria.1 In the last few years, a lot of research has been done on their beneficial properties for the gut.
Prebiotics are oligosaccharide (a type of carbohydrate) components of the diet and are the food source for probiotics. They can’t be digested in the human body and are rather fermented by bacteria in the digestive tract.1
Probiotics have been showed to help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea2 and help relieve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)1. Other benefits are not really worth mentioning as the quality of the evidence is either low or very low, but they include less absence from school due to a cold, decreased incidence of respiratory tract infections, decrease in gestational (pregnancy related) diabetes and decreased risk for vaginal infections.3
Prebiotics‘ benefits are linked to probiotics, as the one supports the other. Along with probiotics, prebiotics are recommended for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and IBS.1
What foods contain them?
Some food containing probiotics are not traditional foods and might sound and taste strange the first time you try them. These foods are all fermented and include:
- Kefir (a fermented milk drink)
- Kombucha (a fermented tea drink)
- Sour pickles
- Fermented vegetables
- Sourdough bread
Prebiotics are mostly found in fibrous foods:
- Red wine
Is it safe to take pre- and probiotics?
There is not a lot of research available on the side effects of pre- and probiotics, but I would recommend that you speak to your doctor before taking them as some studies have shown that people with a weak immune system are vulnerable to side effects. Come to think of it, the safest way to take these gut healthy bacteria is through your food.
Would I recommend it?
I would recommend pre- and probiotics to people struggling with digestive issues as I’ve heard a lot of people saying that it has relieved symptoms of diarrhea and other digestive discomforts, BUT I would always firstly recommend them in “food form”. The only time I would recommend it in supplement form is when someone is struggling a lot and that food does not do the trick, but also after consulting with their GP.
What do you think about pre- and probiotics? Would you recommend it? Have you used it before and what was your experience? Let me know, I would love to hear from you!
- Mahan, L. K., Escott-Stump, S., Raymond, J. L. & Krause, M. V. 2012. Krause’s food & the nutrition care process. 13th ed. Missouri: Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Guo, Q., Goldenberg, J.Z., Humphrey, C., El Dib, R. & Johnston, B.C. 2019. Probiotics for the prevention of pediatric antibiotic‐associated diarrhea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (4).
- Braga, V.L., Rocha, L.P.D.S., Bernardo, D.D., Cruz, C.D.O. & Riera, R. 2017. What do Cochrane systematic reviews say about probiotics as preventive interventions?. Sao Paulo Medical Journal, 135(6), pp.578-586.