In Part 1 of our Picking a Probiotic Series, we explained Colony-Forming Units (CFU) – what they are, why they matter and how to apply information about them to selecting a probiotic product. In Part 2, we took a closer look at the most common strains (or types) of bacteria found in probiotic products and what they do inside your body. Today, we’re getting into the third and final part of our probiotic supplements series!
If you take an interest in probiotics, you’ve probably come across prebiotics in your research. Prebiotics are types of carbohydrates that your body can’t digest. When you consume them, they survive the digestive process in the stomach and make their way into the intestines. Once they’re in the intestines, they come into contact with something that can digest them: bacteria.
Prebiotics are essentially food to keep “good” bacteria (probiotics) alive, well and doing their beneficial jobs inside your body. Probiotics generally get all the glory when it comes to gut health, but prebiotics play a very important supporting role in maintaining that crucial bacterial balance in your body.
As Activated Nutrients Chief Science Officer Dr. JB explains, “Prebiotics are essential for the optimal implantation and growth of probiotics. Probiotics can only work to rebalance the gut when they can implant and grow.”
So how do you incorporate prebiotics into your diet? First, you need to know which prebiotics to select. Many plants, wholegrains and legumes contain prebiotic fibre; to name a few, there’s bananas, watermelon, nectarines, white peaches, onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, snow pea and green peas, oats, couscous, rye, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Another thing to consider is the timing of prebiotics. If you’re going to deliberately consume prebiotics, you want to ensure they’re making it into your body at a time when they're most likely to be used by the probiotics. That should give the pre and probiotics the best chance of benefiting each other or, to use the technical term, forming a synbiotic. When pre and probiotics work together optimally, they’re called synbiotics.
According to Dr. JB, the simplest approach is to co-ingest the prebiotics and probiotics. You can do that by carefully choosing wholefoods to consume together or by taking a dietary supplement. Optimal probiotic supplements will include a prebiotic component to maximise the potential of every dose.
While prebiotics are an important part of helping probiotics thrive, Dr. JB also stresses the importance of other dietary and lifestyle choices. He says, “Probiotics can only work to rebalance the gut when they can implant and grow. This can be inhibited by the presence of bacterial toxins, antibiotics and some common drugs. Many food preservatives work by inhibiting bacterial growth and so these too can cause problems. A generally unhealthy gut, with poor hydration, an unbalanced diet all work against re-establishing a healthy microbiome and in these cases taking probiotics without addressing the other issues will limit what they can do.”