Probiotics & Prebiotics- for a happy gut!

By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.

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Various types of microorganisms, known as gut microbiota, are inhabitants of the human gastrointestinal tract. “Gut health” describes the function and balance of bacteria of the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Ideally, organs such as the esophagus, stomach and intestines all work together to allow us to eat and digest food without discomfort.

Important functions of gut microbiota: (1)

• Nutrient metabolism
• Drug metabolism
• Protection against metabolic disorders
• Maintenance of structural integrity of the gut mucosal barrier
• Immunomodulation
• Protection against pathogens

Pro and prebiotics both support gut microbiome health, but they’re not the same. Prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, but probiotics are edible food sources that actually contain health-promoting microbes. Let us understand their functions, benefits, what foods they’re in, and whether prebiotics and probiotics supplements are useful.

What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?

The current definition, formulated in 2002 by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and WHO (World Health Organization) working group experts, states that probiotics are “live strains of strictly selected microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (2).

In 2007, FAO/WHO experts described prebiotics as a nonviable food component that confers a health benefit on the host associated with modulation of the microbiota (3).

Not surprisingly, what you feed your microbiome may have the biggest impact on its health. And the healthier it is, the healthier you are. The key to a healthy microbiome is nourishing a balance among the nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut.

Sources of Prebiotics:

Dietary prebiotics are typically non-digestible fiber compounds that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulate the growth or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as substrate for them (4)

Foods containing prebiotics are as follows: (5)

Raw, Dry Chicory Root
Raw, Dry Jerusalem Artichoke
Raw, Dry Dandelion Greens
Raw, Dry Garlic
Raw, Dry Leek
Raw, Dry Onion
Raw Asparagus
Raw Wheat bran
Whole Wheat flour, Cooked
Raw Banana

Health Benefits of Prebiotics: (6)
The health outcome data for prebiotic intake is substantially more limited than for dietary fiber. However, it has been suggested that prebiotic intake may:

  1. Reduce the prevalence and duration of infectious and antibiotic-associated diarrhea;
  2. Reduce the inflammation and symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease;
  3. Exert protective effects to prevent colon cancer;
  4. Enhance the bio availability and uptake of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and possibly iron;
  5. Lower some risk factors for cardiovascular disease; and
  6. Promote satiety and weight loss and prevent obesity.

Sources of probiotics:

Live probiotic cultures are part of fermented dairy products, other fermented foods, and probiotic-fortified foods.

Food products containing prebiotics are as follows: (7)

Pickled vegetables
Soy sauce
Raw cheese

Health benefits of probiotics: (8)

  1. Improvement of intestinal health
  2. Enhancement of the immune response
  3. Reduction of serum cholesterol
  4. Cancer prevention
  5. In the treatment of acute diarrhoeal diseases
  6. Prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea
  7. Improvement of lactose metabolism


Prebiotics and probiotics are vital for the health of not only your gut, but your body in general. Prebiotics are types of fiber which provide nourishment to your health-promoting gut bacteria, whereas probiotics are live beneficial bacteria which have health benefits for humans.

There are two ways to maintain this balance — helping the microbes already there to grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotic) and adding living microbes directly to your system (probiotic).



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