What are Probiotics and Prebiotics for Gut Health?
Learn how and why probiotics and prebiotics may help support natural gut health‡
Probiotics are supplements or foods containing live microorganisms that may improve your good bacteria. Prebiotics are typically high-fiber foods that may help improve the balance of microorganisms in your body. Think of prebiotics as the food for the probiotic bacteria in the foods and supplements you consume for your gut health.1,2 ‡
Your stomach lining and your entire body are covered in microorganisms, most of which are bacteria. These invisible organisms make up your microbiome. The health of your microbiome affects your overall health and wellness. The best way to support a healthy microbiome is by creating an optimal balance of the nearly 1,000 different types of bacteria in your gut.3 ‡
One of the best ways to achieve a healthy microbiome and balanced gut health is with probiotics, prebiotics, and other natural strategies for supporting and maintaining gut health.3 ‡
Keep reading to learn:
- More about what probiotics and prebiotics are
- More about the microbiome
- 4 natural ways to maintain your gut health
Before making changes to your diet, nutrition, and exercise routine, consult your healthcare practitioner. Always discuss any vitamin and mineral supplements you are taking or plan to take, since these may interact differently with medications and health conditions.
As always, feel free to contact us with your questions about our vitamins, minerals, supplements, and other products.
What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?
Probiotics are good bacteria living in your body that work to maintain intestinal health. They also help to digest and break down food.4 ‡
The facts on probiotics:
- Probiotics are living microorganisms.4
- Probiotics are consumed through food and supplements.4
- Foods including yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh are rich sources of probiotics.4
- The most common probiotic bacteria included in foods and supplements are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.4
- Each type of probiotic may have a different health benefit.4 ‡
- Research is showing probiotics may have beneficial effects on bowel health, vaginal ecology, and urinary tract health.5 ‡
Prebiotics are composed of carbohydrates your body cannot digest and helps to feed the probiotics you consume through food or supplements.2 ‡
The facts on prebiotics:
- Prebiotics are dietary fiber eaten by good bacteria in your gut.6
- Prebiotics are essential to helping your gut bacteria create nutrients such as short-chain fatty acids for your colon cells.6 ‡
- Prebiotics exist naturally in a range of foods including:7
- Vegetables including asparagus, sugar beet, garlic, chicory, onion, Jerusalem artichoke, peas, and tomato
- Grains including wheat bran, oats, barley, and rye
- Because probiotics feed on prebiotics, these prebiotics can alter your gut environment and
support gut health.7 ‡
What is the Microbiome?
The microbiome is the trillions of bacteria, organisms, viruses, and fungi living in your body. Together these microorganisms are called the microbiome.8
Every person’s microbiome is unique. Your personal microbiome is linked directly to your immune system health, heart health, and other key aspects of health and wellness.8,9
People often use the term “gut microbiome” when they talk about the microbiome. This is because many of these microorganisms live in your large intestine. The bulk of your microbiome is made of bacteria, with an estimated 1,000 different types of bacteria living in your gut.8
Researchers believe the microbiome is so integral to your health that it is considered an extra organ essential to your health and wellness.8
Your diet, supplements, genes, medication use, and environment affect the types of bacteria and microorganisms in your microbiome and living in your gut. Consuming probiotics and prebiotics through foods or supplements may help you change your microbiome by feeding it healthy bacteria your body needs to help keep you well.10 ‡
4 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Gut Naturally
Maintaining a healthy gut requires a fine balance of diet, lifestyle factors including sleep, stress, and exercise, genetics, age, and environment. The good news is you can take proactive steps to support and maintain a healthy gut and microbiome.10
1. Eat a wide range of fruits, vegetables and other whole foods
The more diverse your diet, the more diverse the bacteria and microorganisms in your microbiome and gut. The bacterium in your intestines rely on the foods you consume to stay alive and active in your body.11
The greater number of beneficial bacteria species in your microbiome, the healthier your gut and the greater the health benefits this essential system may be able to provide you.12
Diet is the number one predictor of gut health for microbial composition and diversity. A nutrient-dense diet rich in polyphenols and healthy fats provides a nourishing environment for your gut bacteria and keeps the gut lining healthy and happy.13
Specifically, one of the main predictors of gut health is dietary fiber. Many fibers are prebiotics that act as food for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics include mainly non-digestible carbohydrates and can also come from polyphenols found in foods like cranberries, cacao, or blueberries.14,15,16,17
Good food sources for your gut health include:8,18
- Green peas
- Whole grains
- Cocoa and dark chocolate
- Green tea
2. Get your short-chain fatty acids
Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are beneficial byproducts of bacterial fermentation that play a significant role in maintaining a healthy gut environment.19
They promote gut health by:20,21,22,23
- Influencing a healthy inflammatory response.
- Acting as a source of energy for your colon cells (colonocytes).
- Supporting cellular signaling and division.
- Creating a beneficial, acidic environment within the colon.
The benefits of SCFAs extend beyond your gastrointestinal tract walls, with research showing they may play a role in hormone and appetite regulation, weight management, and general support for reducing inflammation levels throughout your body.24
Add these high-fiber carbohydrate and fermented foods to your diet to make sure your gut has ample SCFAs:25,26,27
- Fermented foods including cheese, butter, pickles, kefir, sauerkraut, soy sauce, and yogurt.
- Inulin fiber: artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, wheat, rye, and asparagus.
- Fructooligosaccharides carbohydrates: fruits and vegetables including bananas, garlic, asparagus, onions, and garlic.
- Resistant starch carbohydrates: whole grains, rice, barley, legumes, beans, and cooked and cooled potatoes.
- Pectin fiber: apples, carrots, oranges, and apricots.
In addition to dietary sources, prebiotic supplements can fill in the gaps in your diet and are often found in combination with probiotics to provide additional support for general wellness or health conditions.28 ‡
3. Move your body and get regular exercise
Regular daily exercise is essential to your overall health and wellness and now research shows how exercise positively affects your gut microbiome and gut health. A study by University of Illinois scientists shows how exercise may change your gut health.29,30
At the end of this 6-week study, all participants had improved levels of SCFAs and beneficial bacteria in their gut. To study this further, the scientists asked participants to stop exercising for 6 weeks. At the end of this 6-week sedentary period, participant’s microbiomes had reverted to original bacteria levels with a decrease in beneficial bacteria and microorganisms.30,31
Try these strategies to get more movement in your day:
- Start your day with 15-minute walk outside.
- Take a break at lunch to go for a walk, do some light stretching, or a run.
- Schedule a movement date with a friend or family member. This helps you get out the door when you know someone is waiting for you.
- Find activities you can do with your family and friends. Cycling, swimming, playing soccer, or throwing a Frisbee around are all great ways to get outdoors for fresh air and exercise.
- Establish an exercise routine. This could be doing yoga 3 days a week, lifting weights twice a week, or joining your local swim club. Whatever it is, make sure you enjoy it.
4. Get enough sleep
When you sleep, your body goes to work recovering and healing from your day. From helping to regulate your metabolism to supporting your cardiovascular and immune systems, sleep is critical to your overall health and wellness.32
Recent research into the microbiome-gut-brain connection reveals that sleep may be critical to supporting and maintaining a healthy gut. When your sleep is interrupted or your circadian clock is out of alignment, changes may occur in your microbiome, disrupting the balance of good bacteria. This research also reveals that good, quality sleep, and low stress levels affect the balance of your microbiome.32,33
Aim for 7 or more hours of sleep per night and try to practice good sleep habits including:34,35
- Focus on sleep hygiene
- Cut back on evening screen time
- Establish a regular sleep pattern
Strategies for Your Personalized Gut Health Approach
The best approach to gut health should be unique to your body and health status. Focusing on your diet is a vital first step for optimal gut and microbiome health.‡
Remember that your gut health and microbiome diversity are linked to a range of factors including diet, age, genetics, environment, sleep, stress, exercise levels, and other lifestyle factors.‡
A balanced and diverse diet can provide your gut and microbiome with a diverse range of bacteria, SCFAs, and other microorganisms. However, some people with a limited diet may benefit from probiotic and prebiotic supplements. Always discuss any supplements with your healthcare practitioner.‡
Use our Purely For You personalized supplement plan to provide you with tailored wellness recommendations to meet your specific nutritional needs.
Remember, we are here to support you in achieving optimal personal wellness. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news, promotions, and nutritional/lifestyle content Purely For You.
1. What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?: Mayoclinic.org (Accessed September 28, 2021) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065
2. Prebiotics vs. Probiotics : What’s the Difference?: Healthline.org (Accessed September 28, 2021) https://www.healthline.com/health/prebiotics-vs-probiotics
3 Prebiotics, probiotics and your health : Mayoclinic.org (Accessed September 28, 2021) https://www.mayoclinic.org/prebiotics-probiotics-and-your-health/art-20390058
4. Probiotics 101: A Simple Beginner’s Guide: Healthline.org (Accessed September 28, 2021) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-101
5. Health benefits of taking probiotics: Harvard Health Publishing (Accessed September 28, 2021) https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics
6. The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods You Should Eat: Healthline.org (Accessed September 28, 2021) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods
7. Davani-Davari, Dorna, Manica Negahdaripour, Iman Karimzadeh, Mostafa Seifan, Milad Mohkam, Seyed Jalil Masoumi, Aydin Berenjian, and Younes Ghasemi. “Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications.” Foods 8, no. 3 (March 2019): 92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6463098/
8. Why the Gut Microbiome Is Crucial for Your Health: Healthline.org (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health
9. Fast Facts About The Human Microbiome: Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://depts.washington.edu/ceeh/downloads/FF_Microbiome.pdf
10. The Microbiome: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
11. Heiman, Mark L. and Frank L. Greenway. “A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity.” Molecular Metabolism 5, no. 5 (May 2016): 317-320 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27110483/
12. Xu, Z., & Knight, R. (2015). Dietary effects on human gut microbiome diversity. British Journal of Nutrition, 113(S1), S1-S5. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114514004127
13. Singh, Rasnik K., Hsin-Wen Chang, Di Yan, Kristina M. Lee, Derya Ucmak, Kirsten Wong, Michael Abrouk, et al. “Influence of Diet on the Gut Microbiome and Implications for Human Health.” Journal of Translational Medicine 15 (April 8, 2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y.
14. Gibson, Glenn R., Robert Hutkins, Mary Ellen Sanders, Susan L. Prescott, Raylene A. Reimer, Seppo J. Salminen, Karen Scott, et al. “Expert Consensus Document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) Consensus Statement on the Definition and Scope of Prebiotics.” Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology 14, no. 8 (August 2017): 491–502. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrgastro.2017.75.
15. Alves-Santos, Aline Medeiros, Clara Sandra Araújo Sugizaki, Glaucia Carielo Lima, and Maria Margareth Veloso Naves. “Prebiotic Effect of Dietary Polyphenols: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Functional Foods 74 (November 1, 2020): 104169. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2020.104169.
16. Tzounis, Xenofon, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, Jelena Vulevic, Glenn R. Gibson, Catherine Kwik-Uribe, and Jeremy P. E. Spencer. “Prebiotic Evaluation of Cocoa-Derived Flavanols in Healthy Humans by Using a Randomized, Controlled, Double-Blind, Crossover Intervention Study.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 93, no. 1 (January 2011): 62–72. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.000075.
17. Davani-Davari, Dorna, Manica Negahdaripour, Iman Karimzadeh, Mostafa Seifan, Milad Mohkam, Seyed Jalil Masoumi, Aydin Berenjian, and Younes Ghasemi. “Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications.” Foods 8, no. 3 (March 9, 2019). https://doi.org/10.3390/foods8030092.
18. 9 Ways to Improve Your Gut Bacteria, Based on Science: Healthline.org (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/improve-gut-bacteria
19. Besten, Gijs den, Karen van Eunen, Albert K. Groen, Koen Venema, Dirk-Jan Reijngoud, and Barbara M. Bakker. “The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids in the Interplay between Diet, Gut Microbiota, and Host Energy Metabolism.” Journal of Lipid Research 54, no. 9 (September 2013): 2325–40. https://doi.org/10.1194/jlr.R036012.
20. Ríos-Covián, David, Patricia Ruas-Madiedo, Abelardo Margolles, Miguel Gueimonde, Clara G. de los Reyes-Gavilán, and Nuria Salazar. “Intestinal Short Chain Fatty Acids and Their Link with Diet and Human Health.” Frontiers in Microbiology 7 (2016). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2016.00185.
21. Ratajczak, Weronika, Aleksandra Rył, Arnold Mizerski, Kinga Walczakiewicz, Olimpia Sipak, and Maria Laszczyńska. “Immunomodulatory Potential of Gut Microbiome-Derived Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs).” Acta Biochimica Polonica 66, no. 1 (March 4, 2019): 1–12. https://doi.org/10.18388/abp.2018_2648.
22. Blottière, Hervé M., Bruno Buecher, Jean-Paul Galmiche, and Christine Cherbut. “Molecular Analysis of the Effect of Short-Chain Fatty Acids on Intestinal Cell Proliferation.” The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 62, no. 1 (February 2003): 101–6. https://doi.org/10.1079/PNS2002215.
23. Bach Knudsen, Knud Erik, Helle Nygaard Lærke, Mette Skou Hedemann, Tina Skau Nielsen, Anne Krog Ingerslev, Ditte Søvsø Gundelund Nielsen, Peter Kappel Theil, et al. “Impact of Diet-Modulated Butyrate Production on Intestinal Barrier Function and Inflammation.” Nutrients 10, no. 10 (October 13, 2018). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101499.
24. González Hernández, Manuel A., Emanuel E. Canfora, Johan W.E. Jocken, and Ellen E. Blaak. “The Short-Chain Fatty Acid Acetate in Body Weight Control and Insulin Sensitivity.” Nutrients 11, no. 8 (August 18, 2019). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081943.
25. Topping, D. L. and P. M. Clifton. “Short-chain fatty acids and human colonic function: roles of resistant starch and nonstarch polysaccharides.” Physiological Reviews 81, no. 3. (July 2001): 1031-1064. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11427691/
26. Shimizu, H., Masujima, Y., Ushiroda, C. et al. “Dietary short-chain fatty acid intake improves the hepatic metabolic condition via FFAR3.” Sci Rep 9, 16574 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-53242-x
27. How Short-Chain Fatty Acids Affect Health and Weight: Healthline.org (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/short-chain-fatty-acids-101
28. Cappello, Carmelina, Fabrizio Tremolaterra, Annalisa Pascariello, Carolina Ciacci, and Paola Iovino. International Journal of Colorectal Disease 28, no. 3 (March 1, 2013): 349–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00384-012-1552-1.
29. Vincenzo Monda, Ines Villano, Antonietta Messina, Anna Valenzano, Teresa Esposito, Fiorenzo Moscatelli, Andrea Viggiano, Giuseppe Cibelli, Sergio Chieffi, Marcellino Monda, and Giovanni Messina. “Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbitoa with Positive Health Effects.” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity (2017) https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2017/3831972/
30. Exercise changes gut microbial composition independent of diet, team reports: University of Illinois. (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/586206
31. Research Says Exercise Also Improves Your Gut Bacteria: Healthline.org (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://www.healthline.com/health-news/exercise-improves-your-gut-bacteria
32. What Happens When You Sleep?: Sleepfoundation.org (Accessed September 29, 2021) https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep
33. Li, Yuanyuan, Yanli Hao, Fang Fan, and Bin Zhang. Frontiers in Psychiatry (December 2018) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6290721/
34. Sleep Hygiene: Sleepfoundation.org. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene (Accessed September 29, 2021)
35. How Electronics Affect Sleep: Sleepfoundation.org (Accessed September 7, 2021) https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-electronics-affect-sleep
‡These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.