What Are Prebiotics

Artichokes A Top PrebioticTrying to understand probiotics is a bit challenging but then you almost casually stumble upon the term prebiotics. Is there such a thing as a prebiotic?

First you think that maybe it is just made a typing error. However a Google search soon shows that prebiotics are very much a fact of life. And it looks like in many cases they are more valuable than probiotics.

Prebiotic Definition

There are any number of sites that help with a definition. Here are just two of the definitions found

A non digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. Wikipedia

A prebiotic is defined as a non digestible food ingredient that is used as an energy source by beneficial bacteria found naturally in the body’s intestines. – livestrong.com

A Complementary Relationship

Once the concept is grasped it turns out that Probiotics and Prebiotics really form a complementary relationship. Prebiotics provide the fuel or food on which probiotics feed.

And while prebiotics are defined as ‘non digestible’ this refers to the the human gastrointestinal tract. If prebiotics are food for the probiotic bacteria then they can obviously ‘consume’ them.

One way to think of prebiotics is as specialized plant fiber that provides nourishment for pre-existing good bacteria already in the gut. And there are a number of Prebiotic Fiber Supplements that can be taken to support these bacteria.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

One comparative test described on the BBC Science & Nature website outlines using two groups of 4 people. One group of 4 was given a prebiotics diet (bananas,leeks and the like) The other 4 were given a probiotics diet (yoghurt and the like) to see which was more beneficial.

Daily feces samples were taken over 5 days and a bacteria count taken. The interesting result was that those on the prebiotic diet saw an increase in their good bacteria count which was up by over 130 million.

Pleasing but not dramatic – 130 million is just small for bacteria numbers.
However somewhat surprising thing was that the bacteria count for those on the probiotic diet changed very little.

Based on these results it looks like it is better to follow a prebiotic diet to boost the numbers of existing good bacteria in your colon rather than try to add to them using a probiotic diet. And garlic, onions, leeks and artichokes are the vegetables that do this best.

Characteristics of Probiotics and Prebiotics

There is a marked difference in the characteristics of probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics are live bacteria and generally found in dairy foods such as yoghurt or capsules. To be effective they have to be kept alive, generally have a limited lifespan and usually need to be stored in the cool.

Probiotics also have to survive the transit of the gastrointestinal system to where they can become effective – in the colon. Finally there is no firm medical evidence that clearly shows they are beneficial for a healthy person.
Although there are some instances where they have certainly helped.

Prebiotics on the other hand are really a specific form of dietary fiber. As such they are not impacted by temperature, an acidic environment and do not have a use by date – age is not such an issue.

Prebiotics function by encouraging the growth of the beneficial bacteria that already exist in your intestines. And they have been shown to give definite health benefits to healthy people – many of them being proven medically.

The Choice Is Yours – Prebiotic or Probiotic

On balance it would seem that the better option is a prebiotic diet rather than a probiotic one. By encouraging the growth of exisiting good bacteria in your gut you are building on what is already there.

Whereas the probiotic bacteria taken orally have to survive the journey down the gastrointestinal tract and then compete with the bacteria that are already in your colon. A more difficult and risky journey.

Probiotics are widely available and use by many folk – many of whom claim they are beneficial. Certainly they should not be dismissed outright. If you are someone who has found them beneficial that is great. But if you have not considered a prebiotic diet perhaps that is something to consider as well.

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