Whether you suffer from digestive issues, are researching holistic ways to treat acne or are simply looking to improve your gut health, you’ve probably heard of the potential benefits of adding prebiotics and probiotics to your diet.
Coverage of these helpful little microorganisms has been splashed all over the news for the past several years and it’s no surprise. Between new research studies touting the health benefits of prebiotics to projections that the probiotics market will reach a whopping $74 billion by 2025, the buzz is real.
Our digestive tracts are naturally full of bacteria, which can have a positive effect on our overall health when in balance.
As you might know by now, not all bacteria is bad and eating foods that promote the growth of ‘good’ bacteria may promote better health from the inside out.
These effects include easing the effects of inflammatory skin conditions like acne and eczema, alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, and helping control blood pressure and cholesterol, and assisting with weight loss.
Both probiotic and prebiotic foods help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. This explains why many health professionals recommend incorporating them into your meals. But what are they? Here are the essentials you need to know.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, like yeast and bacteria, that help keep our guts healthy by increasing the levels of beneficial bacteria inside our digestive tracts. This in turn helps prevent harmful bacteria from taking over.
Probiotics are found in a variety of fermented foods, some of which you may already have in your fridge. Yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kefir are just a few of these probiotic-packed foods. These organisms may be invisible to the eye, but while they’re small, they are certainly mighty.
Common types of probiotics include the species Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces. Within these species, there are several strains which are thought to be particularly beneficial to the digestive tract.
Benefits of Probiotics
Here are some of the specific benefits these different probiotics can have on your body and where you can find them.
- Lactobacillus – These bacteria produce lactic acid which reduces bad bacteria’s ability to grow in the digestive tract, including the potentially cancer-causing h. pylori. You can find lactobacillus in naturally fermented foods like kimchi, miso paste, tempeh, sauerkraut, wine, and sourdough bread. It’s also often added to yogurt and certain types of cheese.
- Bifidobacterium – Many promising studies have shown that bifidobacterium could be useful in managing IBS, killing off the infections caused by h. pylori and the bacteria which cause colitis, and restoring the balance to the gut flora post-chemotherapy. Like lactobacillus, bifidobacterium is present in yogurt, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, buttermilk, and other fermented foods.
- Saccharomyces – Unlike the first two probiotics on this list, saccharomyces is a yeast rather than a bacteria. While some folks might be with S. cerevisiae for its role in brewing, winemaking, and baking, it’s S. boulardii which plays a major role in our bodies as a probiotic. From treating diarrhea and easing the effects of other gastrointestinal disorders like IBS and Crohn’s disease to possibly helping skin conditions, and reducing inflammation, adding S. boulardii is equally promising in its role as a beneficial probiotic. The easiest way to add it to your diet is through OTC supplements.
What are Prebiotics?
In contrast to probiotics, prebiotics are not live bacteria. Prebiotics are dietary fibers that act as a food source for probiotics. Although our bodies are not able to digest these fibers, they act as a source of nutrition for probiotics.
Prebiotics are typically found in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
10 Probiotic and Prebiotic Sources
While probiotic bacteria are common in dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and certain fermented cheeses, there are also plenty of dairy-free, plant-based options available to you.
Here are some of the most common probiotic foods:
- Miso paste
- Fermented Olives
- Cheddar cheese
- Cottage cheese
Most prebiotics can be found in plant-based food, such as fruits and vegetables. Here are some good sources of prebiotics:
Why You Should Eat Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods
As we mentioned earlier, adding probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet encourages the growth of healthier gut flora.
Research indicates that a healthy digestive tract may have a wide variety of positive effects in the body.
- Treating IBS – For those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), probiotics may offer some hope. One study conducted at the George Washington University of Medicine suggested that specific types of probiotic bacteria may help alleviate some IBS symptoms.
- Diabetes – Eating probiotic foods may also help with managing Type 2 diabetes. Some studies have indicated that probiotics may lower blood glucose levels. What’s more, consuming more probiotic foods may also play a role in weight loss.
- Constipation – Probiotics don’t just help with IBS management – adding them to your diet can help relieve constipation as well.
- Diarrhea – Scientists from the University of Chicago discovered that certain strains of probiotics are highly effective when it comes to treating diarrhea, especially in children.
- Cardiovascular health – On top of its many benefits to gut health, some studies suggest that probiotics may help the heart by reducing levels of “bad” cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, and reducing inflammation in the body.
- Mental health – Scientists have suggested the connections between gut health and the brain and several studies indicate that a healthy gut may play a role in reducing depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
- Skin conditions – Probiotics can inhibit inflammation in the body which may in turn help with inflammatory skin conditions like acne, ezcema, and dermatitis.
Incorporating probiotic foods into your diet is generally safe, however certain individuals should consult a doctor beforehand. Probiotics might not be appropriate for those who have a compromised immune system, such as those with cancer or AIDS. Any adverse side effects like gas, bloating, headaches, and thirst after consuming probiotics should also be noted.
Possible Side Effects Caused by an Unhealthy Gut
Imbalance in your digestive tract can cause health problems in other parts of your body. Starting in the stomach, imbalanced gut bacteria may contribute to a more sluggish metabolism. This in turn may contribute to obesity, diabetes, and put stress on your heart. Some studies have linked gut bacteria to mood, suggesting that a preponderance of ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut may lead to anxiety and depression.
This is where probiotics can be a major help to you. Probiotics have anti-inflammatory properties which make them a valuable tool in combating inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease. In helping to balance the flora of your digestive tract, probiotics may also help your metabolism to run more efficiently.
Whether you prefer chowing down on a tempeh burger, pickling vegetables at home or making your own kimchi, eating more probiotic and prebiotic foods couldn’t be easier. And as the research suggests, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. If you’re good to your gut, your gut will be good to you.