Our bodies are full of bacteria, a lot of bacteria.  When the body’s ratio of good to bad bacteria is in balance, our immune systems, and digestive health improve. More and more studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease.

An imbalance means there are too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. It can happen due to illness, medication such as antibiotics, poor nutrition, and more. Consequences can include digestive issues including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and more. Balancing out your gut bacteria begins with probiotics and prebiotics. Here are a few things you should know about them.  

  1. Prebiotics and Probiotics are not the same

Probiotics are the “good” bacteria or live cultures — just like those naturally found in your gut. These active cultures help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. This functional component may boost immunity and overall health, especially GI health. For instance, probiotics have been used for the management of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.

Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that feed your gut bacteria. They are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. You can describe them as “good” bacteria promoters. Yup, not all bacteria are bad!

So basically, prebiotics and probiotics work together to improve gastrointestinal health.

  1.  You can find probiotics and prebiotics in natural foods

Prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides, such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides (types of carbohydrates). But rather than focusing on these crucial lengthy words, include more prebiotics in your diet by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans, and whole-wheat foods.

To obtain more probiotics in your diet, look to fermented dairy foods including yogurt, kefir products, lacto-fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, aged cheeses, which contain live cultures (for example, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli). Be sure to include plenty of non-dairy foods which also have beneficial cultures, including kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and cultured non-dairy yogurts. Get the optimal benefits from yogurt by choosing those with no sugar or low sugar, as sugar can nourish the bad bacteria in the gut.

  1. Consuming probiotics have some benefits towards overall health (research is ongoing)

Probiotics may help:

    • support your immune system and protect against infections.
    • reduce the symptoms of bowel disorders like ulcerative colitis, IBS and necrotizing enterocolitis.
    • reduce the risk and severity of certain allergies, such as eczema in infants.  
    • improve symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress and memory, among others.
    • reduce the risk and severity of diarrhea from a number of different causes.
  1. There are different strains of probiotics, some of which treat specific conditions more effectively.

If you choose to take a dietary supplement, it’s important to know that different strains of probiotics serve different needs. Recent studies suggest certain strains of bacteria can provide symptom relief for those with antibiotic-associated diarrhea, acute onset infectious diarrhea, IBS and IBD. For example, for patients with IBS, a probiotic supplement with a combination of species including Bifidobacteria is recommended rather than a single species Lactobacillus probiotic.

  1. When you take a probiotic, you must take it regularly to see the benefits

Probiotics may provide benefits in a variety of ways. In order to continue to reap the benefits of a probiotic supplement, continuous consumption is needed. Studies have shown that the effects of probiotic supplementation are no longer detectable one to four weeks after individuals stop taking their probiotic supplement.

Probiotic supplements are considered safe for most populations but are not recommended for the critically ill or individuals with a compromised immune system. It is important to talk with your doctor before taking a probiotic or prebiotic supplement.