Why Prebiotics Are Just As Important As Probiotics For Gut Health

Functional Medicine Physician By Raphael Kellman, M.D.
Functional Medicine Physician
Raphael Kellman, M.D. is the author of The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss. He studied to complete his doctor of medicine degree at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

One of the questions I get asked most often is about the difference between probiotics and prebiotics. I get it: the names sound pretty similar, and just from the name, it’s hard to tell exactly what either one of them is.

These are two different items, though, and the difference between them is actually pretty interesting. Understanding the distinction can help you take significant steps to enhance your health, increase your energy, boost your mood, sharpen your mind, and shed any excess weight you want to get rid of.

Probiotics and Prebiotics Support Your Microbiome

Probiotics and prebiotics are both important because they help support your microbiome, the community of trillions of bacteria that live within your body, helping it function at peak health and wellness.

When friendly bacteria predominate, you glow with health. Your weight stays at a healthy level, your metabolism hums, your energy overflows, and you feel optimistic, clear, and focused. Your immune system is in terrific shape, helping stave of infections and illness.

When unfriendly bacteria dominate, however, you struggle along. You gain weight and can’t seem to lose it. You crave sugar. You’re vulnerable to yeast infections, not to mention colds, flu, acne, and numerous other symptoms. You feel fatigued and can experience what I call feeling tired and wired. You might struggle with anxiety and depression. The unfriendly bacteria that have hijacked your microbiome are undermining your health and well-being.

So how do you eliminate the unfriendly bacteria that’s making you feel crummy and preventing you from losing weight? You can take probiotics to add millions of friendly bacteria to your microbiome and prebiotics to nourish the friendly bacteria that’s already in your gut.

Probiotics Replenish, and Prebiotics Nourish Friendly Bacteria

Probiotics can be found in capsules, powders, or foods that actually contain live friendly bacteria. You can buy probiotic capsules and powders at health-food stores or online. You can find live bacteria in such probiotic foods as yogurt, kefir (fermented milk), kombucha (a fermented drink), sauerkraut, kimchee (a Korean fermented cabbage), and pickled vegetables of all types.

If you want to take a probiotic in capsule or powder form, take one pill or packet a day. Look for the following qualities:

  • It should contain these three types of Lactobacillus: acidophilous, rameneses, planataris.
  • It should contain different types of Bifidobacter.
  • It’s a bonus if your probiotic contains Acidophilus reuterii.
  • It should contain between 50 billion and 200 billion bacteria — the more, the better.

Prebiotics feed your friendly bacteria and help them proliferate on their own. I think of taking probiotics as the equivalent of restocking a pond with fish. Taking prebiotics, by contrast, is like nourishing and supporting the fish that are already in the pond.

You can buy prebiotics in the form of capsules and powders. Here are some I recommend that are especially helpful for weight loss:

  • Cal-mag butyrate, 200 to 300 mg, one to two times a day. Butyrate is both a prebiotic and a weight loss supplement.
  • Inulin powder: 4 to 6 grams a day, divided into two doses.
  • Arabinogalactans, 500 to 1000 mg, two times a day.

You can also look for a combination of inulin and arabinogalacatans.

Foods that contain lots of natural prebiotics include what I call the Microbiome Superfoods:

  • asparagus
  • carrots
  • garlic
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • jicama
  • leeks
  • okra
  • onion
  • radishes
  • tomatoes
  • turmeric
  • cinnamon

Microbiome Medicine

Now that you understand what probiotics and prebiotics can do for you, make sure you take advantage of your new knowledge. Take a daily probiotic capsule or powder, consume a fermented food or beverage every day, and load up on prebiotic-rich Microbiome Superfoods. Your weight, mood, mental clarity, and overall health will improve significantly.

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