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Probiotics vs. Prebiotics 101: Your Guide To Supplements and Bettering Gut Health

You have probably heard about probiotics and how foods like yogurt are great for digestion. But have you heard of prebiotics?

No, that was not a typo!

It turns out that both PRO- and PREbiotics are just as important in your diet to ensure gut health and support digestion. So what are they and what is the difference? Which one do you need?

Keep reading to find out!


Why Should You Take Care of Your Gut Bacteria?

Did you know that there are 10 TRILLION microbes in our gut and that alone weighs 1-2kg?

Our gut microbiome is an ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and viruses in the gastrointestinal tract. It is essential to our survival as the gut cannot extract all the nutrients and energy we need from food by itself. However, these friendly microorganisms do much more than just breaking down and digesting food. They also protect us from bad bacteria by maintaining intestinal wall function, talk to the brain and produce vital brain chemicals (learn more about how gut health and mental health are connected here), and work with the immune system to keep inflammation at bay.

Without all the good bacteria in your gut, your body would go haywire!


Probiotics: What Are They And Do You Need Them? 

Probiotics are essentially a dose of good bacteria. They are live organisms cultured to live and survive in the gut to provide benefits to us, much like the bacteria that we naturally have.

There are many different species of good bacteria, however, the two main species are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

The Lactobacillus species is the most common probiotic and can be found in yogurt as well as most fermented foods. It can alleviate diarrhea and reduce lactose-intolerance.

Bifidobacterium is naturally present and fights harmful bacteria in the large intestine. It can also prevent constipation and boost the immune system. Studies have shown that Bifidobacterium can ease symptoms of IBS, ulcerative colitis (UC) and pouchitis, which is a surgery complication for UC [1]

The thing is, everyday life factors can throw your microbiome off-balance. This includes:

  • Antibiotics
  • Eating high amounts of processed foods and sugar
  • Stress 
  • Lack of sleep

    Probiotics can not only help restore normal diversity and stabilize the microbial community, but also: 

    • Improve the metabolic function and efficiency of the gut microbiome 
    • Displace gas-producing and other "bad" bacterial species
    • Enhance intestinal barrier integrity so that digested food, toxins and bacteria cannot penetrate the tissues underneath
    • Increase the responsiveness of gut immune cells to bad microbes
    • Secrete anti-inflammatory signals and dampen inflammation responses [2]

    Probiotics are especially helpful if you are experiencing diarrhea after taking antibiotics or from a flare-up. Since both beneficial and undesirable bacteria are flushed out, it is important to replenish the number of good bacteria in your body.

    Probiotics for Ulcerative Colitis

    Several studies have shown that probiotics can be effective in preventing UC flare-ups [3]. This is because probiotics address the root cause of the condition.

    UC is mainly caused by an over-active immune system that perceives a bacterial imbalance in the large intestine as a danger. By re-introducing diversity and stability in the gut microbiome, probiotics can eliminate this perceived problem, so that the immune system can soften or stop its attack.


    Are Probiotics Safe? 

    From infants and children to adults and the elderly, probiotics are considered safe for most people. However, if you are living with a chronic disease, cancer, or a suppressed immune system, you should consult your doctor about adding probiotics to your diet.


    Sources of Probiotics

    Probiotic sources

    You can get probiotics from a range of sources, including in foods such as:

    • Yogurt
    • Sauerkraut and Kimchi 
    • Kombucha (fermented tea) 
    • Kefir (fermented drink from cow's milk) 
    • Tempeh (from fermented soybeans) 

    If you find that you're struggling to incorporate these foods into your diet or if they're just not for you, then taking a probiotic supplement could be a great option. There are supplements commercially available that deliver both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, among many other probiotic species. Each probiotic supplement is different and when reading the labels, you should always think about the three "Ds": diversity, dose and delivery.

    • Diversity: there are lots of different species included, not just one! 
    • Dose: measured in colony-forming units (CFUs), aim for at least 5 billion
    • Delivery: how you take the probiotic can affect the dose that makes it to your intestine. Probiotics can be taken in multiple forms including powder, capsules and gummies. Find one that is the easiest and the most comfortable for you. 

    An excellent probiotic supplement example is the Pro-B11 from Intestinal Fortitude. The founder of Intestinal Fortitude, Will, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease 8 years ago. After much trial and error, he found the perfect "blend" that has helped him live symptom-free for several years. Pro-B11 has 11 bacterial strains chosen based on scientific studies that showed their effectiveness in improving gut health in people with digestive disorders. There are also 11 Billion CFU in just one little capsule!

    Intestinal Fortitude


    If you find that a big spoonful of yogurt or daily probiotics is just not enough to restore balance in your gut microbiome, then this is where prebiotics come in!

    Prebiotics: What Are They And Do You Need Them? 

    Prebiotics are naturally occurring food components that promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Our digestive system can not break down prebiotics. Instead, they travel through to the good bacteria in the colon and are broken down into the nutrition that they need to survive and thrive.

    Prebiotics are essential for maintaining and increasing the number of desirable bacteria in the digestive system. They are food for the good bacteria! Prebiotics are also turned into a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the colon.


    Sources of prebiotics

    Before you rush out to buy prebiotic supplements, many foods contain them naturally. Prebiotics are types of fiber found in vegetables, fruits and legumes.

    Some examples of foods that are high in prebiotic fiber include:

    • Bananas (green and less ripe preferred) 
    • Asparagus 
    • Broccoli
    • Oatmeal 
    • Onion and garlic
    • Beans
    • and...purple sweet potatoes! (check out PURPO for fun and easy ways to add purple sweet potatoes as well as pro- and prebiotics to your diet!) 
    Do you need both? 

    Prebiotics and probiotics work together synergistically. A good metaphor for their relationship would be a garden, where the probiotics are the seeds and the prebiotics are the water and fertilizer that help seeds grow and flourish.

    If you're in a generally healthy state with a good composition of friendly bacteria, you can trust your gut to do the right things for you. However, if your microbiome is off-balance due to antibiotics, acute diarrhea, or chronic digestive issues, including probiotics in your diet can help restore good gut bacteria. 

    On the other hand, prebiotic supplements are not essential if you are already getting enough fiber from your diet. Studies have shown that prebiotics by themselves are not of much use. It is only when they are used in conjunction with probiotics that they seem to have a significant effect.

    With that said, a typical modern western diet tends to be high on processed foods, sugar and synthetic ingredients. Studies have shown that an average American does not consume the 25-35 grams of fiber the gut bacteria need to survive and replicate [4]. Adding in pre- and probiotic supplements is an easy way to incorporate a healthy component to your diet, especially if you find it difficult to eat enough fermented and fiber-rich foods.

    Incorporate pre- and probiotics in your daily life with PURPO All-in-One Cereal Cups!

    If you love cereal as much as we do, then the PURPO All-in-One Cereal Cup is perfect for you. Not only does it have pre- and probiotics mixed-in, but it is also packed full of nutrient-dense and gut-friendly ingredients. Who says healthy eating has to be hard?