by Ariane Resnick, C.N.C.
You've Got What in Your Gut?
The average human houses two to six pounds of bacteria in their intestines. That includes an enormous range of species: We have 35,000 different bacteria in our guts. For the layperson, scientists and wellness professionals often divide gut bacteria into categories of “good” and “bad.” Good bacteria helps us be healthy, and bad bacteria creates illness. Because our immune systems are mostly in our intestines, the balance of healthful to harmful bacteria there plays a major role in our overall health and wellness.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are what we call the good bacteria living in our intestines. There are many individual types of probiotics, but they all fall into one of two broad categories: lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Having an abundance of these bacteria is necessary for our health because the more probiotics that live in your gut the less space there is for harmful bacteria.
What Are Prebiotics?
Though our society has spoken about probiotics for many years, the topic of prebiotics is newer. Probiotics are living organisms, and in order to multiply, they need food. Prebiotics are the food that probiotics eat. After all, everything must have a food source in order to multiply. Prebiotics are the fiber in our food that is resistant to digestion. We can't use it ourselves, but the helpful bacteria in our intestines can.
Why Do I Need Probiotics and How Can I Get Them?
You need probiotics in order to have a healthy immune system, and you need a healthy immune system in order to be alive and well. You can take probiotics as a supplement in a capsule or eat foods that have been fermented. Fermentation is a culinary tradition that has been around for thousands of years. Examples of common foods produced through fermentation include yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Because probiotics don't have a long lifespan, eating fermented foods or supplementing with a probiotic capsule is an ongoing necessity unless you also have prebiotics in your diet.
Why Do I Need Prebiotics and How Can I Get Them?
While you could just focus on ingesting probiotics frequently, consuming prebiotics too makes it less vital that you constantly restock your body's supply, and gives you some flexibility on when you eat probiotic foods or take supplements. This is because by feeding your probiotic population, you'll enable them to multiply themselves rather than die off. You can eat foods that have the resistant fiber probiotics eat, or you can supplement with prebiotic fiber capsules. Prebiotic fiber is found in foods such as jicama, chicory, sunchokes, under-ripe bananas, and tiger nuts.
When Should I Take Probiotics?
Probiotics will have the most benefit when taken as far away as possible from any substance that could kill them, such as antibiotics or alcohol. You can eat probiotic foods at any time, and if you are taking a supplement of them, they have the best survival rate when taken with meals.
When Should I Take Prebiotics?
Because prebiotics are newer to scientific study, less guidance about when to take them is available. Professionals generally agree that it makes the most sense to take prebiotics and probiotics at the same time because you are offering food to the bacteria from the start, giving them the best chance of survival.
Combining prebiotics and probiotics will have a synergistic effect, giving each the chance to do its job to the best of its ability. This is easy to accomplish with pairings of prebiotic and probiotic foods, or by taking capsules of each at the same time. Whether you choose to take them together or apart, consuming both probiotics and prebiotics will contribute to your overall health.
Ariane Resnick is a special diet chef, certified nutritionist, and bestselling author. She has been featured in media such as Forbes, CBS’ “The Doctors,” and Huffington Post, and her private clientele includes celebrities such as P!nk. Ariane has two books published (the first of which, The Bone Broth Miracle, reached the ranking of #1 cookbook on Amazon on multiple occasions) and two books releasing in 2019.