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Prebiotics, Probiotics, Synbiotics - what's the difference?

by Nic Florido


Ah, the gut.
She’s the moody, needy VIP of your body that requires a ton of attention to stay happy. When treated the way she’d like, she’s the gift that keeps on giving. But when she’s not so happy she’ll reap havoc on your insides, leaving you feeling pretty low.   

Relax. Gut health can be intimidating but we’ll walk you through it!

Your gut consists of your microbiome, which is essentially a collection of live microorganisms that live in amongst your intestines. It’s pretty weird to think about, but those 100 trillion tiny bugs, bacteria and fungi that make up your microbiome play a big part in your overall health and wellbeing. Spoiler – they're connected to everything. In fact research suggests your gut affects your brain function, digestion, skin quality, sleep, weight, mental health and immunity (to name a few!).  

If you’re a bit of a germaphobe, this can be a little scary but rest assured, they’re nothing to be afraid of. The key to good gut health is fairly simple. It’s all about making sure you have more good bacteria living in your gut than bad. And how do I do that you ask? One of the easiest ways is to add probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics to your diet. This little trio will have your gut living its best life in no time.


Probiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics... help!
 

This magic trio may sound like a lot of work but don’t stress, this doesn’t mean you need to run to the chemist and buy a bunch of pills and potions! Here’s a nifty breakdown of everything you need to know: 

First up: Probiotics

Probiotics are the good bacteria that live inside your microbiome (aka your gut). Think of your microbiome like a garden. Probiotics are the good, healthy plants that make the garden lovely and lush. Bad bacteria are the weeds that can sneak in and overtake the other healthy plants (which makes the whole garden sick and more vulnerable to illness). By planting more probiotics into your garden, you’re keeping your immune system strong and the weeds and illness at bay.  


There are literally thousands of different kinds of bacteria, so eating a variety of probiotic-rich foods can help your gut to be the happiest, most balanced version of itself. And since our bodies normally host trillions of bacteria, there's pretty much no limit to how many probiotics you can have. You know what that means? Time to stock up on kombucha! But if you're after a steer on what’s a good amount to aim for, a daily dose of 10-15 billion is commonly recommended*. 

Some probiotic-rich foods to start adding to your diet include: 

 

Secondly - Prebiotics  

If your microbiome is the garden, bad bacteria are the weeds and probiotics are the healthy plant life, then the best way to think of prebiotics is as the fertiliser. Prebiotics are essentially types of fibre that your body doesn’t digest but instead they act as food for your microbiome. That means that prebiotics are the food for your probiotics, the food that helps them to function properly (bugs have gotta eat, too!). 

The interesting thing about our microbiomes is that everyone’s are different. Two healthy people could have very different bacteria living in their microbiomes, but all those bacteria need prebiotics to help them thrive and survive.  


The best way to get prebiotics? Feed your microbiome the rainbow. Eating a wide variety of prebiotic-rich foods like fruits and veggies nourishes the good bacteria in your gut, making them (and you) happier and healthier!

A few great examples of prebiotic-rich food include: 

  • Garlic 
  • Onions  
  • Asparagus 
  • Green peas 
  • Jerusalem artichokes 
  • Chickpeas 
  • Rye bread 
  • Green bananas
  • Cashews 
  • Watermelon 
  • Nectarines 
  • Lentils

 

Three times a charm - Synbiotics

It’s important to remember that the journey from our mouth to our guts can be pretty hard one for probiotics. Sometimes, they just don’t make it, dying before they can reach the gut alive (and making them pretty much useless).  

This is where synbiotics come in to help out our probiotics in need. Synbiotics are essentially supplements that contain both probiotics and prebiotics, developed in a way to make sure they reach your microbiome safely. Think of them as the gardener that can survive the tricky journey down the path to the garden (ok we may have stretched the analogy a little far now!), who adds new healthy plants to the patch and fertilizes the ones already there.  

You can usually find synbiotic supplements in most health stores or pharmacies.  

But don’t be fooled! 

While synbiotics have the potential to do a lot of good – it's hard to know which ones to trust. There isn’t a lot of evidence to support these gardeners (yet!). When int doubt, it’s always best to get your prebiotics and probiotics naturally from a wide variety of wholesome drinks, food and veggies. These are the two key ingredients to a happy gut. 

The key takeaway? For good gut health, try and eat a wide variety of fermented foods and drinks, fresh veggies, fruits and fibre. Give your microbiome garden some love with prebiotics and probiotics and it will love you back by keeping you healthy, happy and weed-free!  

* Williams N. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 67(6): p. 449-458 / Kliger B, Cohrssen A. Am Fam Physician. 2008. 78(9): p. 1073-1078 




Nic Florido
Nic Florido

Author




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