Probiotics? Prebiotics? What’s the Difference?

In the world of alternative and holistic health, probiotics have been a topic of discussion for quite some time. Heck, even conventional medicine has come to recognize the health benefits they provide, and all of the TV commercials that tout them are yet another sign that they’ve gone mainstream (though not all are created equal). 

 Lately, in the circle of resources I rely on, I’ve noticed another word creeping into the conversation: prebiotics. Hmm…Probiotics? Prebiotics? What’s the difference? As per usual, the question got this self-healther curious and looking for a better understanding. 

 We’ll start with the more familiar of the two. What exactly are probiotics? The Mayo Clinic defines probiotics as “good bacteria that are either the same or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body.” This article further reminds us that all of the bacteria in our intestines (good and bad) outnumber the number of cells in our entire body by a considerable amount. Seems like something that would be important for us to keep in check. Dontcha’ think? 

 So, what exactly are prebiotics? The Global Healing Center defines prebiotics as any natural indigestible fiber that: 

  • Resists digestion and absorption in the upper gastrointestinal tract 
  • Is fermented by the intestinal microflora 
  • Selectively stimulates the growth or activity of friendly intestinal bacteria 

 Prebiotics, which are basically food for the good bacteria residing in your intestines, is a type of fiber found in certain vegetables and fruits. It would seem that prebiotics are what makes probiotics effective. After all, every single living thing needs to eat, including the bacteria in our system. 

 In the name of gut health, prebiotics and probiotics are equally important, and they both play a key role when it comes to improving your gut flora and your overall health. 

 But just throwing these two things down your gullet isn’t a cure-all, as Dr. Lowell Keppel explains in his blog post “Are You Buying or Renting Your Probiotics?” In fact, they simply cover up whatever symptoms led you to them in the first place. The key is in the healing of your internal environment. Healing should always be the focus, yes? 

 If your support system is trying to heal, Dr. Keppel offers simple suggestions that may help, including products such as Gut Flora Complex and Lactic Acid Yeast from Standard Process. Working with a trained healthcare professional is also essential in determining what your specific symptoms are trying to tell you.  

 As my self-health education often reveals, there’s more to the topic of probiotics and prebiotics than just their strict definitions. If you notice any signs that you need to support your intestinal bacteria, remember that your ultra-sophisticated body is nudging you toward seeing the big picture of your inner workings.  

 What new terms have you been noticing in your self-health educational resources? 

Image from iStock/ChrisChrisW.

Paula Widish

Paula Widish, author of Trophia: Simple Steps to Everyday Self-Health, is a freelance writer and self-healther. She loves nothing more than sharing tidbits of information she discovers with others. (Actually, she loves her family more than that—and probably bacon too.) Paula has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Relations and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through International Coach Academy.

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Related Topics

alternative medicine | probiotics

2 thoughts on “Probiotics? Prebiotics? What’s the Difference?

  1. Danielle LeBaron says:

    Hi Paula, Maria Atwood asked me to reply this to you:

    Great post and something that most people don’t pay enough attention to! I would like to offer my recent blog post that will add to the wisdom of yours. I deal specifically with “prebiotics” in the form of inulin in one of my recent blog post. Maybe some of the readers of your blog post may also want to add some of the great prebiotic recipes in their diet and that I include in mine.

    Maria Atwood, CNHP

  2. Paula Widish says:

    Thank you, Maria. I’m a big fan of your posts and the knowledge you willingly share with anyone taking the time to read them. 🙂 I’m not quite sure how I missed your post on raw potatoes, initially, but it is fascinating! I remember one of my uncles nibbling on raw potatoes when I was little and I always thought it was strange. Now I realize it was a wise choice and will try it myself. Having three boys, I’m curious about the raw potato chip recipe your post links to. I’ll have to give it a try. And, the potato juice recipe seems like a must for those avid juice advocates. I appreciate you taking the time to comment on my post, Maria.

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