If you’ve been keeping an eye on current research, you'll know that the journey to whole-body health and wellness begins in your gut. After all, that's the reason we developed Eden's — our 3-in-1 daily synbiotic supplement.
Even Hippocrates said, over 2000 years ago, “All disease begins in the gut.” And as we learn more and more about the microbiome and its relationship to health and disease, this millenia-old statement certainly does seem true.
More and more people are relying on probiotics and prebiotics to support gut health and, by extension, overall wellness. Knowing the difference between the two, whether to take one over the other, or even whether you can or should take both at once, can be complicated. We'll make the distinction between probiotics vs prebiotics clear in this article so you never have to wonder again.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are "live bacteria that, when supplied in suitable proportions, impart a health benefit on the host," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Probiotics have been around for a long time and are most frequently found in yogurt. They are not, however, restricted to yogurt and are not only beneficial for the gut.
- The most common probiotic bacteria are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which can be found in yogurt and other fermented dairy products. They can also be formulated into powder or pills.
- Fermented foods and beverages — such as kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and others — are another source of probiotic bacteria.
- Many probiotic species have been used to treat gut conditions such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), constipation, and more.
- Probiotics can also help treat skin conditions (i.e., eczema) and respiratory tract conditions (i.e., asthma and viral infections such as COVID-19).
What are prebiotics?
If probiotics are the living organisms, then prebiotics are the food for those living organisms. Prebiotics are a particular class of non-digestible carbohydrates found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits that:
- Are not digestible by mammals
- Are fermented (digested) by microbes
- Improve activity and viability of beneficial microbes
Prebiotics can also be extracted (from foods) and turned into supplements, just as probiotics. Prebiotics, probiotics, and polyphenols are all combined into one daily scoop of Eden's.
Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and other bioactives that control metabolic and immunological pathways are produced by microbes that ferment fiber. SCFAs are chemicals that have many advantages for human health, including:
- Lowered risk of diseases (e.g., colorectal cancer)
- Lowered intestinal inflammation
- Better regulated blood sugar
- Improved absorption of vitamins and minerals
- Increased satiety and reduced hunger
Leading medical professionals recommend consuming prebiotics over probiotics to improve overall health and wellbeing because of all the health benefits linked to ingesting prebiotic fibers and their relative safety. If you've heard otherwise, it could be because some study contends that as we've developed to consume a high-fat, refined carbohydrate diet, we may have lost our naturally helpful bacteria over time.
Prebiotics can't have a positive impact if the bacteria that ferment them aren't already present in your gut, which is why some people think that simply eating them won't do much good. Yet, since a wide variety of bacteria may ferment fiber, missing one or two species is unlikely to have a significant impact. Numerous credible studies confirm this, demonstrating that the majority of people have an abundance of fiber-fermenting bacteria in their stomachs.
Probiotics vs. prebiotics: Can (and should) you take both?
So, if probiotics can help treat disease, and prebiotics feed probiotics (and thus might enhance the latter’s efficacy), the question naturally follows: Shouldn’t you just take both?
So, probiotics vs prebiotics: what's the difference? Prebiotics are nutrition for the microorganisms in your gut, whereas probiotics are living microbes that can improve health. The evidence to date is very clear: probiotics show some effectiveness in treating particular illnesses, but not for promoting health in people who are typically healthy. On the other hand, prebiotics significantly and quantitatively promote overall health and wellbeing, especially when sourced from fiber foods. And you might improve a probiotic's capacity to treat specific illnesses by taking both at once.