Prebiotics and probiotics: guide to meet and differentiate them





When talking about digestive health, there are usually two almost equal terms, morphologically speaking, but conceptually different: prebiotics and probiotics. Do you know what each one is? Do you know your functions? Would you know how to differentiate? Susan Bowerman, a nutrition and dietary specialist and director of the Herbalife Nutrition nutrition training area, explains how to differentiate them and know their functioning, being both fundamental for good digestive health

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that keep the body healthy, while “prebiotics” is the food that facilitates its growth. Both are important to maintain the health of the digestive system, especially for microorganisms living in the intestines, also known as microbiome.


The fundamental difference between both is that probiotics are living microorganisms that when administered in appropriate amounts confer a benefit for the health of the consumer; while prebiotics are non-digestible substrates, which stimulate the growth or activity of indigenous microorganisms, resulting in a health benefit.

Intestinal microbiome, key to the health of the “first” and “second” brain
The digestive system, called “the second brain”, is a complex system that sends and receives all kinds of information to and from the “first brain”.

The “brain” of the intestines has several receptors that collect information about the conditions of the digestive tract that send signals to the “first brain”, which uses such information to control the digestive functions. However, sometimes the signals travel in the other direction and are experienced in the form of a visceral reaction. When stress and anxiety attack, the brain sends a signal to the intestines, and we experience the scrambled stomach feeling.

It is therefore important to stimulate the growth of “good” bacteria in the intestines. Microbiome is a complete ecosystem made up of billions of different organisms, including fungal bacteria and viruses. Its main function is to break down the dietary fiber, as the human body lacks the mechanism to do so. Microbiome has important effects on physical health and can even influence the mood. In addition, it improves the health of the immune system, prevents entry to external agents that can cause diseases and produce essential vitamins.

More and more attention is being paid to the role of the diet in maintaining the health of the microbiome, and food has a strong influence on maintaining a healthy balance of microbes in the intestines, which helps the two “brains” to work together and optimally.

What are the prebiotics and where are they?
According to the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO), prebiotics are diet substances that nourish selected groups of microorganisms that inhabit the intestine favoring the growth of beneficial bacteria on harmful ones.

For Bowerman “Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those containing complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbohydrates are not digestible by the body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for bacteria and other microbes.”


Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, but may have effects on other organs and systems of the body. They favor intestinal, immune and skin health, increase the absorption of calcium and may relieve some digestive problems. Guias y Trucos tecnologicos

The list of prebiotic foods is long, being present in foods high in fiber especially of vegetable origin such as bananas, onions, garlic, pork, asparagus, alcachofas, tomatoes, plums, apples, nuts, soy and whole foods. However, in order to obtain all its nutritional benefits, it is recommended to consume a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The “good” or probiotic bacteria
The word “probiotic” comes from the Greek and means “in favor of life”. And that's just what probiotics do in the digestive tract. They are “good” bacteria that are ingested in foods or supplements. Its consumption helps to balance the populations of the different types of bacteria in the intestines, which depends on the intestinal health.

Although the idea of consuming bacteria sounds rather unpleasant, Susan Bowerman considers that there is good news in all this, and is that they are consumed without realizing, as they are found in many fermented foods (natural process in which bacteria convert sugars and other carbohydrates from food into acids).

The modern diet, in which sugar and highly processed foods abound, favors the growth of certain bacteria that can cause digestive discomfort, commonly inflammation or irregular intestinal transit. A diet rich in prebiotic fiber, instead, helps to promote the proper balance in the digestive system, leading beneficial bacteria directly to the digestive tract.

In addition to the effects they have on intestinal health, probiotics are considered to improve the immune response of the body, reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and also help prevent cancer. Evidence suggests that they can also help control blood pressure and may also have a positive effect on mood, as well as maintaining the immune system strong.

The most common source of probiotics are fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kéfir and some old cheeses, although they also contain fermented vegetables (pepinillos or olives), cultivated yogurts without dairy products and kombucha drinks.

Is it necessary to take prebiotic and probiotic supplements?
Adults should consume about 30 grams of fiber a day, however, the adult, due to the current rate of life, barely ingest the third of this amount. Fiber supplements, which contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, together with probiotic supplements, can serve as compensation.

The addition of fiber supplements to the usual diet leads to changes in the visible bowel function in just a few days. Probiotic supplements depend on the variety of probiotics, the quality of the supplement and the dose.

Supplements should be taken in the amounts recommended in the product label and may be taken every day. However, at the beginning of the treatment with a fiber supplement, it is a good idea to start with a little less than the recommended daily dose and gradually increase it; thus, the digestive system has the opportunity to adapt.

The most important factor in taking supplements is constancy. You have to choose a moment of the day, take them every day to that hole and empty stomach. This is because stomach acid may degrade probiotic bacteria, which may cause them not to survive the trip to the intestines. The empty stomach, instead, has less acidic conditions, which can be more favorable.

Although it is not necessary to take prebiotic and probiotic supplements at the same time, doing so could facilitate the habit of taking them. In addition, taking them together is considered a symbiotic combination, as one acts as a source of food for the other.

Prebiotics and probiotics: guide to meet and differentiate them

Prebiotics and probiotics: guide to meet and differentiate them

When talking about digestive health, there are usually two almost equal terms, morphologically speaking, but conceptually different: prebiotics and probiotics.





Prebiotics and probiotics: guide to meet and differentiate them
Prebiotics and probiotics: guide to meet and differentiate them

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