Our gut interior is a vital and rich ecosystem containing billions of microorganisms which are in competition with one another for resources such as nutrients and space. In a healthy person, a delicate balance is maintained, with abundant good bacteria out-competing the disease-causing bad bacteria. When the bad bacteria start to take over however, this balance can become disrupted, leading many of us to wonder if taking probiotics or prebiotics can bring balance back. This infographic from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) provides us with some answers to these important questions.
First, the infographic covers the difference between probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live organisms that provide health benefits when taken in sufficient amounts. They may or may not be microbes that are already found natively in and on our bodies. We mostly ingest probiotics through the foods we eat, especially in the form of fermented dairy products. Prebiotics on the other hand – of which fiber is the most common – are carbohydrates that feed the good bacteria residing in our guts.
Can probiotics and prebiotics improve the gut microbiota? In the case of prebiotics, scientists are confident to answer “yes!” Prebiotics have been shown to increase levels of beneficial bacteria, playing a role in the promotion of our health.
And what about probiotics? Probiotics can exert effects on the microbiota as they travel through the GI tract, using similar mechanisms as our native microbes to improve our health. Probiotics can impact our gut microbiota indirectly as well, for example by influencing our immune system which in turn influences our colonizing microbiota.
For more information on probiotics, check out our related infographic here.
Megan Mouw Megan Mouw holds a Bachelor of Science in microbiology from McGill University (Canada). Driven by her experiences at UCSF medical center in San Francisco, Megan is passionate about the role that the gut microbiota plays in maintaining health and wellness. She is currently perusing graduate studies in Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology at the University of California Santa Cruz and hopes to share her love of science through writing.