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What are prebiotics and probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts which can be taken as a supplement. They contain bacteria which are like those that inhabit the colon. Prebiotics are preparations of complex sugars that help the 'good' bacteria in probiotics to thrive.
Probiotics can be destroyed by your stomach acid or bile salts, although the strains lactobacillus and bifidobacteria have been found to be highly resistant.
Not all bacteria are equally effective so you need to check that you're taking a type of prebiotic/probiotic that is backed up by high-quality research. Three strains of lactic acid-producing bacteria, which are commonly found in fermented foods, are:
These strains are the top three positive bacteria, which aid digestion by breaking down enzymes and other proteins found in food.
Here are some of their potential benefits:
Here's how to restore and improve your gut bacteria.
Choose foods with 'friendly' bacteria: Fermented foods, such as kefir, cottage cheese, live-bio yogurt, sauerkraut and miso, are rich sources of lactic-acid producing bacteria.
Control stress: One study, published in Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, found stress can change the balance of bacteria that naturally live in the gut, contributing to conditions, such as IBS.2
Avoid foods that disturb the balance: Sugar, caffeine, fatty and processed foods can all upset the balance of bacteria in the gut. Replace them with gut bacteria-friendly foods, which play a role in keeping the gut flora fed and nourished (they act as prebiotics feeding 'friendly' bacteria in the digestive system). These include artichokes, bananas, polenta, broccoli, blueberries, miso soup, tempeh, and beans.
Take a prebiotics/probiotics supplement: friendly bacteria help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut.
Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.
See more of Jo Waters' work.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1Cruchet S et al. (2015). The use of probiotics in pediatric gastroenterology: a review of the literature and recommendations by Latin-American experts, Paediatric Drugs
2Bailey M et al. (2010). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity