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
    • Honey
    • Bananas
    • Soybeans
    • Milk
  • 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

  • Raspberries
  • Artichokes
  • Green peas
  • Broccoli
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Cranberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cocoa and dark chocolate
  • Green tea
  • Almonds
  • Onions

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.