Kendal staff members sometimes share articles of interest to older adults with residents. This health & wellness article, written by Kendal’s clinical dietitian, appeared in The Kendalight, the monthly newsletter written by Kendal residents.
What is the difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics? Prebiotics are nondigestible nutrients used as an energy source by certain beneficial natural bacteria, Probiotics. In other words, the probiotics feed on the prebiotics. Probiotics help to maintain the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestinal tract. The normal human digestive system contains over 400 types of probiotic bacteria. The largest group of these bacteria are lactic acid, which includes Lactobacillus acidophilus. These types of probiotics are most commonly found in fermented dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir. They can also be found in miso, as well as juices and soy drinks. Check the label to see if the product contains “live and active cultures.”
Many research studies have found that probiotics may be beneficial in improving or preventing diarrhea, especially when associated with antibiotic use. This is due to the fact that antibiotics kill “good” bacteria along with “bad” bacteria. A decrease in “good” bacteria can also lead to other illnesses, including urinary tract or yeast infections. Other research has shown that probiotics may help alleviate lactose intolerance and boost immunity. Since probiotics are already part of a normal digestive system, they are considered safe
Prebiotics are also known as “fermentable fiber” and occur naturally in a variety of foods. Main food sources include: artichokes, bananas, berries, dairy products, garlic, greens, leeks, honey, onions, and whole grains. The role of prebiotics is somewhat controversial since there is not much research at this time. More studies are needed to determine their benefits. Preliminary evidence shows that prebiotics may have a role in: Improving antibiotic-associated diarrhea and colitis, constipation relief, reducing Irritable Bowel Sydrome (IBS), and boosting immunity. In some cases, use of prebiotics may cause increased intestinal gas.
Both probiotics and prebiotics also come in supplement forms (capsules, powder). However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way that it regulates medications. Keep in mind that supplements may cause side effects, especially when combined with other medications. As always, a “food” form, such as yogurt, is better absorbed than a supplement.
At this time, it is unclear if humans need to take a daily probiotic to maintain regular bowel health. Individual needs are different. If you are considering taking probiotic/prebiotic supplements, first check with your doctor to make sure that they are right for you.
Katie Hoover, Registered Dietitian, Kendal at Oberlin