Eating Foods for Gut Health: The Benefits of Probiotics and Prebiotics
Eating foods that promote your gut health is important, since your gut health impacts various other facets of your overall health. Probiotics and prebiotics are two important nutrients for gut health that help gut bacteria that’s good for you to flourish. Probiotics help introduce new beneficial microorganisms to your microbiome, while prebiotics help feed these microorganisms. Keep reading to learn more about what probiotics and prebiotics are, their benefits and risks, and how to add them to your diet.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics and prebiotics work together to promote good digestive health, and each has a different role.
- Your gut is made up of trillions of bacteria.
- Probiotics are live microorganisms, similar to or the same as the ones that exist in your gut.
- They can be found in certain foods or you can purchase them as supplements.
- There are a variety of species of probiotics. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most common.
- Prebiotics help beneficial gut bacteria to grow and thrive.
- They are a form of dietary fiber that feed the good bacteria in your gut.
- Prebiotics are not the same as fiber, but they are both non-digestible by human enzymes.
- Like probiotics, they can be found in foods or in supplements.
Benefits of Probiotics and Prebiotics
Better Gut Health
Of course, the main thing that comes to mind when you think of prebiotics and probiotics is probably gut health, but what does the research say?
- Probiotics may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, constipation, and Clostridium difficile infection.
- Probiotics may also help manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and maintain or induce remission of ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Research demonstrates mixed results for prebiotic use and gut health benefits.
- Some studies have shown that taking prebiotics doesn’t impact IBS or IBD, while others have found that it improves symptoms of these conditions.
- Some studies have shown that taking both prebiotics and probiotics could protect against the development and progression of colorectal cancer.
Improved Immune Function
Both prebiotics and probiotics are associated with improved immune health because of the gut’s impact on immune functioning.
- A prebiotic mixture of oligofructose and inulin has been shown to promote the body’s immune response to influenza and measles vaccines.
- Galacto-oligosaccharides are associated with a reduced risk of atopic dermatitis in infants.
- Probiotic supplementation may play a role in preventing upper respiratory tract infections and reducing the length of infection.
Better Mental Health
The gut-brain axis is an area of interest for researchers. Existing research has shown that prebiotics and probiotics may improve various mental disorders including anxiety, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, depression, autism, and more.
- One study found that probiotic supplementation reduced measures of stress and improved mental flexibility in older adults.
- Others have found that probiotics reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
Better Absorption of Certain Micronutrients
Consuming prebiotics and probiotics is associated with improved absorption of certain micronutrients.
- Fructans found in foods like wheat, rye, and onions are associated with improved absorption of calcium.
- Prebiotics may also help with the absorption of magnesium and iron.
- Probiotics have been associated with improved status of vitamin B12, calcium, folate, iron, and zinc.
Adding Probiotics and Prebiotics to Your Diet
Food Sources of Probiotics
Food Sources of Prebiotics
Probiotic and prebiotic supplements are also available, but it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider before adding them to your diet.
Risks and Side Effects
Probiotics and prebiotics are generally safe to consume with minimal side effects. However, it’s important to be cautious if you are severely ill or immunocompromised.
The most common side effects of probiotics are minor gastrointestinal symptoms like gas. Severe side effects are rare but have been reported in severely ill or immunocompromised individuals.
The most common side effects of prebiotics are relatively minor yet uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, cramping, and gas.
Most people benefit from regularly consuming prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods since they promote a healthy gut microbiome. They’re an important part of a well-rounded diet, and they contain other important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet, especially if you have any health conditions.