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Why and How do Prebiotics and Probiotics work?

Updated on May 27, 2013

Not ALL Bacteria is Bad

Everyone knows about bacteria, however, bacteria should not just be associated with being sick, or as being something you don’t want invading your body. In fact, your body has “good” bacteria built in already. These “good” bacteria, also known as, normal flora, are found both on and in your body, meaning they can be found on your skin, in the conjunctiva, in the oral cavity (on teeth, and mucous membranes), in the upper respiratory tract (nasal membranes, and throat), GI tract (stomach, small intestine, colon (large intestine), and also the urogenital tract (anterior urethra and vagina). The GI tract, or digestive system, is what I’m focusing on today.

Both you as the host, and these bacteria benefit from one another. Normal flora benefit from the host by having a perfect living environment (in a healthy host), a steady supply of nutrients to feed off of, a means of protection and mobility. The host receives from these bacteria both digestive benefits, as well as nutritional benefits. They help in keeping balance of intruders such as bad bacteria and pathogenic microbes , produce and release certain vitamins such as Vitamin K and some B vitamins like B12. Most interestingly to me, they help to build and maintain a healthy immune system through stimulation of both development of certain lymphatic tissues, and natural antibodies.

So…what are Prebiotics, and Probiotics, and what do they have to do with all of this?

PROBIOTICS: Think of these as PRO bacteria, these are the beneficial bacteria that can be found in certain types of foods or via supplement.

PREBIOTICS: Prebiotics are non-digestible foods which travel through our gastrointestinal tract, in which good bacteria feed on. Their purpose is to help the good bacteria thrive and remain healthy.

Both of the above mentioned can assist in maintaining a healthy balance of your digestive system. So many digestive disorders can be attributed simply to an imbalance of good/bad bacteria in your body.

Just a Few Ways to Consume Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotic Containing Foods

Yogurts- contains lactobacillus acidophilus (a live beneficial bacteria) a very easy way to implement this into your diet. Make sure to check whether the yogurt is pasteurized or not, as this process will sometimes kill these good little bacteria.

Organic Juices, Sauerkraut, Buttermilk, Kefir- a drink made with kefir grain fermented milk. Often mixed with sweet fruit flavors or other sweeteners, much like yogurt smoothies.

Prebiotic containing foods include, but are not limited to, some fruits, apple cider vinegar, tomatoes, honey, sprouted wheat, fiber rich foods.

Then of course there are a number of supplements you can buy if you can’t find a pro/periodic food that you like to eat. These can be bought over the counter, such as:
Nature’s Way

These ingredients are not hard to find if you're looking for them. There is an abundance of products on the market past these few That I've listed.

Why do I need to worry about maintaining a healthy, harmonious, bacterial balance, you ask?

It’s much easier to throw the bacterial balance off than some might realize. A major and very common cause is from antibiotic use. Yes, antibiotics are beneficial as well, and there are times you need them. However, many antibiotics are not specific to which bacteria they kill, so they kill all of them, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You may have noticed having some abdominal discomforts, similar to those of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or lactose intolerance (cramping, diarrhea, gas) while on antibiotics. These occur because with low amounts of normal flora, which causes your intestines to be lacking the enzymes needed to digest certain food ingredients which in turn may cause discomfort. Also, once the level of normal bacteria is compromised, so is the amount of Vitamin K present in your intestinal tract. Vitamin K is key to bulking up stool as it passes through by drawing water out. This may explain occurrence of diarrhea while on an antibiotic.

Of course, other ways to become unbalanced are through viruses or invasion of bad bacteria from infection, which cause gastrointestinal symptoms. For example, infectious diarrhea, IBS, stomach infections children may acquire in daycares, H. pylori causing ulcers and many types of stomach inflammation, even stress….and who isn‘t stressed at some time or another?

Why I'm Such a Fan.

As always, I only write about things I have personally had experience with wither directly or indirectly.  Two of my sons have struggled with digestive issues since they were very young.  Mostly constipation and irregularity.  Sometimes leading to gas pains that are very painful.   Most parents understand how difficult it can be to promote healthy eating, and exercise with their kids.  Especially these days with all the junk food, busy schedules, and lack of physical activity.  I was, however, able to get them to start eating a yogurt called Activia, I’m sure most of you have heard of it.  It contains some of the good bacteria in it to aid in digestive health.  My kids love yogurt anyway, so this was such an easy way to implement some type of healthy eating into their diet.  They really have benefited from eating these, and even tell me they can tell a difference in how much better they feel. 

My 4 month old, like many infants on formula, experienced terrible constipation with the formula because of the Iron in it.  Breast milk actually contains these healthy bacteria, so there are less incidences of this in breastfed babies.  I was able to find a formula that not only was easier to digest in her little tummy, but that also contained prebiotics. I have also found that Gerber makes a rice cereal that contains these awesome immune boosting buggers. I learned that about 70%-80% of a baby’s immunities are actually located in their digestive tract.  Yes, it’s a little sad that I only realized this after I had my 4th child.  I was thrilled because not only was this great in softening her bowel movements, it also is boosting her immune system.  Being winter time, with 3 older siblings coming home from school 5 days a week bringing in who knows what types of germs, I find this very comforting.


As always, anytime I recommend any type of product for health, I say again, ALWAYS talk to your doctor before trying any new type of medication/supplement/vitamin/equipment of any kind.  ALWAYS monitor yourself carefully when trying anything new for adverse reactions, side effects, or  drug/drug interactions you may experience.  I am NOT a doctor or expert of any kind on these products, I only ever share my experiences whether directly or indirectly, and my OPINION.


Submit a Comment

  • holyjeans30 profile imageAUTHOR

    Amy D. 

    7 years ago from Mostly in My Own Little World

    Thank you Mr. Smith. I love researching and teaching people things like this. I just think the more you know about your body, the better you can take care of yourself.

  • Benjamin Smith profile image

    Benjamin Smith 

    7 years ago

    Great Info on probiotics and prebiotics, there are many people who have yet to hear about prebiotics this lens covers it well.


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