Almost everyone has heard of probiotics and how helpful they can be for gut health, but the word “prebiotics” can seem a little confusing. The definition and scope of prebiotics have been evolving as researchers increase their understanding of prebiotic mechanisms in the body, but questions, such as how prebiotics differ from probiotics and how many types of prebiotics are there, remain.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a class of compounds recognized for their ability to be selectively utilized by host microbiota to the benefit of the host.1 The intestinal microbiome consists of many different types of microbes, and prebiotics provide the fuel for probiotics to thrive and support human health. For example, consumption of prebiotics may lead to increased numbers of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which can help stimulate the immune system and may help positively affect blood lipids.1 Essentially prebiotics are the food that probiotics need to spring into action within the gut.
A probiotic meal ticket
Prebiotics literally are the meals that probiotics need to consume in order to thrive and help support a healthy gut microbiota. Small amounts of prebiotics are found in certain foods. For example, the prebiotic inulin is found in asparagus, bananas, barley, chicory root, garlic, honey, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, and rye.2,3 Prebiotics are also found in mother’s milk (human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs) and are thought to help colonize the infant’s intestinal microbiota with beneficial bacteria. 4 Supplementation with prebiotics directly delivers this fuel source to the probiotics in the gut.
Types of prebiotics
There are many types of prebiotics, including certain kinds of fats (CLA, conjugated linoleic acid, or PUFAs, polyunsaturated fatty acids), HMOs, phenolics and phytochemicals, readily fermentable dietary fibers, and oligosaccharides. 1 Oligosaccharides include fructose, glucose, galactose, mannose, and xylose. These are the most well-known prebiotics:
While there isn’t a standard or recommended amount yet, supplementation and/or consumption of foods with added prebiotics can help achieve daily intake of these important compounds.
Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team
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Certain persons, considered experts, may disagree with one or more of the foregoing statements, but the same are deemed, nevertheless, to be based on sound and reliable authority. No such statements shall be construed as a claim or representation as to Metagenics products, that they are offered for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease.