Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Another big consideration in nutrition for staying healthy is pre- and probiotics. Prebiotics are fermented ingredients that provide beneficial changes in the activity and composition of the gastrointestinal microflora in their host. (1) Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer health benefits to their host. (1) To put it in simpler terms prebiotics promote the growth and development of good bacteria and probiotics are the good bacteria. Prebiotics and probiotics effect the immune system in many different ways but understanding the role the gut plays is important to understanding how they work. The gastrointestinal tract holds a complex system of microorganisms and microflora that make up the gut microbiota. In order to maintain a healthy gut microbiota your body keeps up the beneficial microbes and reduces the pathogens and damaging microbes. By keeping a healthy gut microbiota, you are maintaining a healthy immune system and reducing your chances of getting sick. This is where pre- and probiotics come into play. Prebiotics affect the activity of the microflora in the gut by can enhancing the population of the beneficial microbes and decreasing the population of the damaging ones. (2) They also can work to decrease inflammatory cells and increase anti-inflammatory cells when inflammation due to the killing of pathogens is already present. (2) Probiotics are necessary to maintain a healthy gut microbiota and immune system because they are the good bacteria themselves. When there is a decline in the good bacteria, the bad bacteria (pathogens) will greatly increase which leads to inflammatory states, diarrhea, and illness. (3) Probiotics need prebiotics to grow and flourish though so it’s important that the two are consumed together to maintain a healthy gut and immune system. Adding pre- and probiotic foods into your diet is easy and doesn’t require taking any supplements. Look for bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, beans and whole grain foods to get prebiotics and fermented foods like yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh to get probiotics. (4) Consumption of these foods won’t prevent you from getting sick, but by maintaining a healthy level of good bacteria in your gut you will decrease your chances of the bad pathogens taking over and potentially causing a serious illness. The use of pre- and probiotics alongside safety precautions and a healthy diet and exercise lifestyle will help to further protect you against diseases like influenza and COVID-19. Pre- and probiotics work the best when eaten together because prebiotics promote good bacteria and probiotics are the good bacteria. So, consider eating a banana with yogurt for breakfast or whole grain pasta with vegetables and tempeh for dinner to maintain a healthy gut and body!
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1. Frei R, Akdis M, O’Mahony L. Prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, and the immune system: experimental data and clinical evidence. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology. 2015;31(2):153-158. doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000151
2. Shokryazdan P, Faseleh Jahromi M, Navidshad B, Liang JB. Effects of prebiotics on immune system and cytokine expression. Med Microbiol Immunol. 2017;206(1):1-9. doi:10.1007/s00430-016-0481-y
3. Vieira AT, Teixeira MM, Martins FS. The Role of Probiotics and Prebiotics in Inducing Gut Immunity. Front Immunol. 2013;4. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2013.00445
4. Prebiotics and Probiotics Creating a Healthier You. Accessed May 5, 2020. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-creating-a-healthier-you