- What are Prebiotics?
- Difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics
- Sources of Prebiotics
- The benefits of Prebiotics
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are complex plant-based sugars that serve as food to promote the growth of probiotic bacteria in the digestive tract. Essentially acting like fertilizers for beneficial bacteria in your gut. They are not fully digested by the human body but are used as "food" by the bacteria (Intestinal Flora) in the gut and enable them to thrive.
When the normal balance of these bacteria is disturbed by disease or antibiotic treatment, diarrhea usually results.
You can get prebiotics from many different natural sources, such as fruits or vegetables. The most common prebiotic ingredients you will see are inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Inulin is not one molecule but a blend of molecules, many of which can be hydrolyzed to yield FOS.
The Difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics
- Probiotics. These are live bacteria (normal microflora) found in certain foods or supplements. They can provide numerous health benefits.
- Prebiotics. These substances come from types of carbs (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest. The beneficial bacteria in your gut eat this fiber.
Sources of Prebiotics
Prebiotics can be found in a variety of foods. An excellent source can be found in chicory root and can provide good amounts of FOS, or more broadly, inulin (as shown in the chart below).
Other sources of prebiotics are shown in the chart below.
The Benefits of Prebiotics
Supporting gut health
Prebiotics are proven to play an essential role in supporting gut health. They provide food for the beneficial bacteria in your gut and cultivate diverse gut flora, associated with a reduced risk of chronic health conditions.
According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), these compounds are crucial for gut health and can inhibit inflammation, which is associated with a higher risk of disease.
"There are literally thousands of types of bacteria that live in the gut, and they don't all survive on the same nutrients. Prebiotics therefore affect the growth of some bacteria over others. They affect the whole gut microbiome, or the complex community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract."
Says Debbie Petitpain, MS, RDN, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
May ease constipation
If you experience constipation, prebiotics may provide the relief you need. According to (ISAPP), prebiotics regulate bowel movements and can ease symptoms of constipation. Though bloating and gas are known side effects of prebiotics, so you’ll want to start small if you’re prone to these symptoms.
May make you feel fuller
Want to lose excess weight? You may have heard claims that prebiotics reduce cravings and make you feel full, which can help with weight loss. A trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that oligofructose, a type of dietary fiber found naturally in foods like onions, leeks, garlic and oats, suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin in overweight adults.
May improve mineral absorption
"Minerals are a crucial part of a healthy diet. Prebiotics can help improve the absorption of our gut to absorb these minerals to reap the full benefits."
May help regulate blood sugar
If you have diabetes, regulating blood sugar can help manage your symptoms. Prebiotics are associated with improved blood sugar control. As 33 studies in the Journal of Translational Medicine showed that taking prebiotics reduced fasting blood sugar levels and decreased HbA1c, a marker of blood sugar control.
May boost immunity functions
There is growing evidence that a healthy microbiome, the body’s community of microorganisms, can boost immune function. One study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that a healthy microbiome supports the body’s natural defenses and heightens immunity. Prebiotics provide food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut, and so may boost immune function.
High immunity is linked with low levels of inflammation. One review found there is promising evidence that prebiotics can reduce inflammation. These findings may be because prebiotics maintain the integrity of the gut wall which acts as a barrier to harmful molecules.
To summarize it, Prebiotics generally stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which confers several beneficial effects on the host like improving digestion and strengthening the immune system.