GUT CHAT 101: What exactly are prebiotics and probiotics, plus why do we need them?
By now you have likely heard of this buzz word: the microbiome. It’s that dizzying number of living organisms that live on and in our bodies, a sign that we are never alone because at least half of our cells are actually bacterial, not human. Whether you find this info creepy or comforting, as with many an iconic duo, there is a place for both. In fact, we need these bacteria (or the RIGHT balance of them) to live healthy happy lives. The microbes in your gut operate like a second brain, sending out signals and doing clever things to help you absorb food and to function well. Which is lovely of them. So how do we support this? With both prebiotics and probiotics, of course.
Here’s what those words mean:
A probiotic is the term we use to describe living ‘good’ bacteria found in your gut. These babies have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves, from reducing inflammation to balancing hormones. You’ll find probiotics in fabulous supplements (ahem… did someone say PONO?) and fermented foods.
A prebiotic is something that feeds and supports the growth of that bacteria. The most common form of this is non-digestible fibre or resistant starch – it’s the kind that stays in tact all the way to where the gut bacteria lives. Without the right food sources your microbiome can become imbalanced, which is when complaints like bloating, inflammation, poor immunity and weight gain kick in. Prebiotics can help to prevent this.
All this tech chat can get a touch confusing at times, so many health practitioners will use the analogy of a lawn instead. In this, the grass is your gut microbiome, grass seeds are probiotics and fertilizer takes on the role of prebiotic. You may be able to maintain a healthy lawn with plenty of sunshine and water BUT if the enormous unsupervised house party I had back in high school is anything to go by, even the hardiest stretch of Australian Couch Grass requires some serious reseeding and fertilizer to thrive again, once 150 teenagers have trampled it.
So if you feel that your microbiome needs support, it may eventually return to glory with a great diet and lifestyle. It will certainly help to add regular doses of seeds/probiotics. But by adding a good quality fertilizer/prebiotic you’ll decrease down time and up nutrients that dramatically speed up the regrowth process. Then, who knows? Maybe a few less house parties?