Turns out, the gut is about much more than just instinct: probiotics, prebiotics, colony-forming units and more are terms you’ll need to learn for optimal gut health. Here, a registered dietitian from Renown explains more about these and other important concepts.
We instinctively know about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet to keep us feeling our absolute best. But a healthy gut needs more than just good food; it also needs bacteria. And these bacteria can be introduced with probiotics and can thrive due to prebiotics.
To address some of the more common questions, we talked to Caitlin Bus, Registered Dietitian at Renown Health. She provides valuable insights about gut health — and our role in promoting it.
Can you describe the key differences between probiotic and prebiotic supplements when it comes to maintaining a healthy gut?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are the same or very similar to those found naturally in your digestive tract. Consuming probiotics either from a supplement or fermented foods can help to keep the body’s gut microbiome in balance. A prebiotic, on the other hand, is a non-digestible plant fiber that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines. Prebiotics act as food for probiotics. Therefore, both probiotics and prebiotics can be helpful in maintaining a healthy gut. They can improve digestion and strengthen immunity. Additionally, they can even protect against gum disease and colon cancer, in addition to improving general health.
In terms of prebiotics and probiotics, is there one supplement that you would suggest taking over the other?
Some supplements contain both probiotics and prebiotics, but they are also sold separately. Taking them simultaneously or separate are both equally beneficial. Some individuals like the convenience of one supplement containing both probiotics and prebiotics. However, some individuals do not tolerate prebiotic fibers, which can cause gastrointestinal distress such as gas and bloating. Therefore, they may want to start out by taking them separately.
Would it be beneficial for someone to take both probiotics and prebiotics simultaneously?
Yes it would be beneficial to take both together. But is not necessary.
How does someone choose the best supplements for them?
There are many factors to consider when choosing a probiotic, including the storage temperature, dosage (the number of CFUs) and types of bacterial strains included. There is no current research to suggest that refrigerated probiotics are more effective than those at room temperature. It is best to follow the storage recommendations from the manufacturer. Probiotics can be effective at varying strengths, and health benefits have been determined in ranges from 1 billion to 1 trillion. However keep in mind supplements are not highly regulated, so you may not be getting exactly what is listed on the label. I tell my patients to choose a probiotic with at least 5 to10 billion CFUs from a variety of strains. Talk to a dietitian or do research to figure out which specific strain or strains offer what you need. Not all probiotic strains are the same.
Are probiotics effective in boosting skin health?
Probiotics are being studied as a possible treatment for acne and overall skin health. However, further research is needed to determine the ideal microbial strains and dosages.
What do you suggest to be the single best food to add to your diet to promote healthy gut bacteria?
Eating a healthy balanced diet that is high in dietary fiber/prebiotics is the best way to promote a healthy gut microbiome. Including probiotics from fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and kimchee and/or supplements can also be helpful.