Although their names are similar and are often confused, prebiotics and probiotics are very different. However, they do have a symbiotic relationship, one being the food for the other.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are living, beneficial microorganisms (bacteria) that, when consumed in adequate amounts, can provide health benefit. Consuming a probiotic can help ensure intestinal microflora balance is maintained. Probiotics have been used successfully in humans for hundreds of years.
- Many people take a daily probiotic supplement or eat yogurt containing live cultures to help support their intestinal health.
- Many doctors recommend probiotics before and after taking antibiotics to help repopulate the intestines with the beneficial bacteria that antibiotics can destroy.
The same benefits can also be provided to both dogs and cats. Probiotics for pets can support the development of a healthy digestive system and help stabilize the digestive system during stressful events such as diet change, antibiotic therapy, or environmental changes that could create a microflora imbalance and poor fecal quality.
The most common probiotics are lactic acid bacteria, which use fermentation to transform some sugars into organic acids (e.g. Lactic and acetic acids). These acids lower intestinal pH and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria have been used to produce fermented food products (e.g. yogurt, cheese, and sauerkraut) and include:
- Enterococcus ssp.
Unlike the resident intestinal microflora, probiotics do not colonize. They do not become permanent members of the resident intestinal microflora; they must be consumed on an ongoing basis or as needed to provide health benefits.
How do Probiotics work?
Probiotics work by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria which help protect the intestines from potentially harmful bacteria and pathogens. Some probiotics reduce adherence and the establishment of potentially harmful bacteria by:
Reducing intestinal pH and destroying potentially harmful bacteria and toxins
Producing Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs), which lower the pH in the digestive tract and nourish intestinal cells
- Beneficial bacteria thrive in a more acidic environment, while potentially harmful bacteria prefer environments with higher pH levels.
- Producing antimicrobial substances that inhibit pathogens
- Depleting and/or competing for nutrients that pathogens require
- Blocking binding sites on cells, making them unavailable to potentially harmful bacteria
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are dietary fibers that are fermented by the beneficial intestinal microflora and serve as their food source. As a result, prebiotic fibers promote the growth and/or activity of beneficial bacteria and digestive health.
Common prebiotics include Inulin from Chicory Root and Wheat Aleurone.
How do Prebiotics promote digestive health?
The selective fermentation of prebiotic fibers by beneficial intestinal microflora is responsible for many of its benefits. Fermentation of prebiotic fibers produces Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). Examples of SCFAs are butyrate, acetate, and propionate.
- Butyrate is particularly important for enhancing digestive health as it is the main energy source for colonocytes (or cells of the colon).
- SCFAs increase the weight and height of the cells of the mucosa (those lining the gut wall), which contributes to improved nutrient absorption and optimized intestinal cell function.
- SCFAs reduce intestinal pH, which in turn provides a more favorable environment for the growth of beneficial bacteria and a more hostile environment for potentially pathogenic bacteria.
- Decreased intestinal pH enhances mineral absorption (e.g. calcium).