What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are taken to change the characterization of gut bacteria that reside within your small intestine (see our article on the Microbiome). Probiotics are typically most helpful after treatment with antibiotics, but many people swear by their ability to improve digestive health. The goal of taking probiotics is to provide a helpful and harmonious balance of gut bacteria that aids in digestion, nourishment, and protection of your body. Another theory says that taking probiotics introduces lots of good, helpful bacteria in your gut so that when pathogens or other harmful bacteria enter the system, they will not be able to take hold as easily and cause malaise. These health claims are still being evaluated, but no matter what your probiotic goals are, it takes multiple, repeated doses over several weeks to cause a composition change, but the stability of these changes is often debated.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are specifically formulated nutrients taken to encourage the growth and proliferation of certain kinds of desirable microorganisms in your gut. Much like with probiotics, the goals of prebiotics are to encourage your gut to form a healthy microorganism balance, to encourage the good microorganisms already residing in your gut, and to create a less hospitable environment for harmful microorganisms. There is a lot less data available on the benefits of prebiotics, but the theory is that when prebiotics are used in conjunction with probiotics, you have the best chance of seeing a favorable change in microbiological landscape within your intestines.
What do Probiotics and Prebiotics do for Gut Health?
All probiotic and prebiotic type products have the same mechanism of action: enhance the gut microbiome. Whenever you are dealing with the microbiome, there is a certain degree of chance and variation, and it typically involves a lot of time. Unfortunately, these time and variability aspects make it so that probiotics and prebiotics won’t always work as intended for many people.
Are there Other Ways to Improve Gut Health besides Probiotics and Prebiotics?
Yes! There are many ways to support gut health – the microbiome is not the only, let alone the best way to improve your gut health. In our Gut Health 101 section we go over these topics, and many more that you might find helpful! For example, you could try a beverage that targets the human cells and decreases inflammation of the gut wall rather than the microbiome.