Prebiotics are a component of some foods that the body cannot digest. They serve as food for bacteria and other beneficial organisms in the gut.
The benefits of prebiotics have links to the benefits of probiotics. Prebiotics may support a healthy gut, offering better digestive health, fewer antibiotic-related health problems, and other benefits.
There is less research on prebiotics than on probiotics.
As a result, the extent to which prebiotics improve health is unclear. Scientists are not yet entirely sure that they can strengthen the purported benefits of probiotics.
Some research suggests that prebiotics may benefit the body by:
- improving calcium absorption
- changing how quickly the body can process carbohydrates
- supporting the probiotic growth of gut bacteria, potentially enhancing digestion and metabolism
Prebiotics occur naturally in many foods, so there is no need for people to take prebiotic supplements.
There is currently no evidence that taking prebiotics and probiotics together is harmful. However, people who have chronic diseases or serious illnesses should avoid probiotic or prebiotic supplements unless a doctor advises otherwise.
Research on the side effects of prebiotics is also in its infancy and requires further investigation.
Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, so probiotics need access to prebiotics to work effectively.
Research assessing the connection between the two is ongoing, and scientists cannot yet confirm whether taking prebiotics can support probiotic development.
People who eat a balanced, varied, and healthful diet will get many prebiotics and probiotics through their food:
Many foods are rich in probiotics, including:
- fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi
- traditional fermented buttermilk
- fermented cheeses, such as Gouda
By including a variety of foods in their diet, people can ensure that they consume a range of prebiotics that may fuel various strains of bacteria. Prebiotics are in many high-fiber foods, including some fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Some probiotic-rich foods may also contain prebiotics.
Babies get access to prebiotics through the sugars in breast milk, and some infant formulas also contain prebiotics.
For most healthy people, there is no need to take prebiotic or probiotic supplements. However, the risk of doing so is usually minimal for people who do not have weakened immune systems or underlying illnesses.
A diet consisting of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods makes it possible for people to consume sufficient prebiotics and probiotics without relying on supplements.
People should consult a doctor or dietitian if they feel that they need specific advice on the right diet for their needs.
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