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What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? I am a 38-year-old female and I keep reading things that say it’s good to take them as a supplement. But there are so many different ones and I’m not even sure I understand completely what they do.

Thanks for reaching out to us! That is a great question.

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics are both considered “nutrition boosters” that may improve digestive health. Prebiotics are non-living, non-digestible carbohydrates that provide food for probiotics. They are commonly seen in the form of dietary fiber supplements, but high-fiber foods are also considered prebiotics in natural form. Here are a few examples of foods that contain prebiotics:

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Onions
  • Artichokes
  • Oatmeal
  • Legumes
  • Honey
  • Whole grain

Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that naturally occur in your stomach to help keep your digestive system healthy. Probiotics can be taken in pill form, but fermented foods such as these are also great sources:

  • Yogurt with live or active cultures
  • Buttermilk
  • Gouda cheese
  • Miso soup
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickles
  • Sourdough bread

There are no foods that contain both prebiotics and probiotics. However, there are supplements that do.

Why Take Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics and/or probiotics help control the growth of harmful bacteria in the body and keep the digestive system running smoothly. It’s important to have enough prebiotics in your body so that the probiotics have plenty to eat to keep your digestive system running smoothly.

Taking dietary fiber supplements (prebiotics) has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and colon cancer. Good bacteria products (probiotics) have been shown to treat digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, intestinal infections, and diarrhea.

Your medical health professional may recommend taking a probiotic while taking antibiotics (medicine that kills both good and bad bacteria in your body) to combat your chances of having diarrhea or developing a yeast infection or urinary tract infection.

Prebiotics and probiotics together can help improve your overall health and boost your immune system. For some people, the two biotics (combined known as synbiotic) can:

  • Enhance calcium absorption
  • Reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance
  • Prevent allergic reactions

How to Choose the Right Probiotic

There are several probiotic supplements on the shelf. So how do you pick the right one?

Experts suggest choosing a probiotic’s bacteria strain based on your needs:

  • Lactobacillus (Lactobacillus bulgaricus, acidophilus, gasseri, rhamnosus and casei) – Helpful for yeast infections and diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii (S. cerevisiae or S. boulardii) – Helpful for diarrhea and other digestive complaints.
  • Bifidobacteria (Bifidobacterium lactis) – Helpful for intestinal infections and boosting the immune system.

Remember Ask the Experts does not replace professional medical care or guidance. We recommend speaking to your Medical Readiness NCO or medical health professional before taking any dietary supplements.

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