Should I Take a Probiotic or Prebiotic?

Should I take a probiotic or prebiotic?  Answering this question was fairly easy when probiotics were the only option to choose from.  Any symptoms that you had low probiotics, whether inconvenient excess gas or a severe autoimmune condition, meant you applied the “add and subtract” theory.  You know what I am talking about.  If you are low you add more with a supplement.  But I want to pose a different thought process for you.  Is adding a probiotic really enough?

Adding a Probiotic – Short Term Success if At All

Stool testing, while not a pleasant topic, is an invaluable tool.  And if I am interested in understanding what is taking place in the gut, there is no better option for viewing this environment.  That means I can immediately see how many, or how few, probiotics exist in the gut.  Here is what you might find surprising at times.  I will be reviewing a report that validates low probiotic levels.  My patient will say, “I have been taking probiotics.”  Where is the disconnect?

Well, the test is not inaccurate.  Contrary to marketing hype and the promotion of the most newly discovered probiotic strain, taking more probiotics does not equate to adequate quantities in the gut.  I will not delve into the issue of whether or not the oral probiotic even provides a reasonable amount of probiotics to the large intestine, the lower gut.  As I have observed over the years, you cannot just take a probiotic and expect things to be alright.  Maybe temporarily.  But aren’t we all looking for lasting changes?  Real change in your probiotic levels comes when you understand how the probiotics function.

How a Probiotic Works (Commonly Overlooked)

I will go back to the “add and subtract” theory of probiotics.  If adding more probiotics is the primary effort to increase probiotics, then little consideration has been given to how a probiotics functions.  Lest we forget, a probiotic is a bacteria, and sometimes a fungus.  For ease of conversation, lets talk about the more common bacteria probiotic.  Bacteria are fast replicating organisms.  When I say fast, I mean in a matter of minutes.  Their growth an literally be exponential.  So why the necessity to supplement a bacteria that can inherently replicate so quickly?

A bacteria with huge potential to increase in number that does not means something is inherently wrong.  This something is often the environment of the gut.  Let me provide an analogy to make sense out of this.  Imagine you show up for work and you don’t have any of the resources that you need to function.  No computer, no tools, etc.  How are you supposed to do your job?  Probiotics are no different.  They need the right tools to function.  Their work environment must provide them the resources to do the work of regulating the immune system, producing nutrients like B vitamins, supporting the nervous system through the gut-brain connection, just to name a few.

A Probiotic Friendly Environment

Creating a probiotic friendly environment comes down to enhancing their experience.  The environment of the gut can be modified to be probiotic friendly.  Much of this comes down to diet.  Which foods are you choosing?  Vegetables and fruits have the greatest impact on building a good probiotic environment.  Lots of color and fiber are the foundations.  However, there are some foods that really shine.  We call them prebiotics.

By definition, a prebiotics enhance the activity of probiotics.  The probiotic bacteria are more efficient in the presence of prebiotics.  Prebiotics are a functional food.  They increase probiotic function.

Prebiotics from the Allium Family of foods: Onions, Leeks, Garlic

Potato Prebiotics: When cooked and cooled, potatoes develop a resistant starch that is a prebiotic

Growing in Popularity: Chicory, Jerusalem Artichoke

Supplemental Prebiotics: Bacteriophages – These are bacterial viruses that target harmful bacteria and increase the growth of probiotics.

Other sources: Dandelion greens, bananas, asparagus, jicama

Should I Take a Probiotic or Prebiotic

With some background under you know, let me get right to the heart of the matter with you.  Should I take a probiotic or prebiotic?  In short, both.  However, I want you to have more clarity.  You should take the probiotic only as you need to.  In should not be part of an ongoing regimen.  As I am seeing with more accurate stool testing, probiotics are deficient at times and this should be corrected.  This is not an ongoing correction and to feel the need to take probiotics for months and months either says that your diet requires an overhaul, or you have something brewing in the gut that warrants a closer look.

This leads me to my primary point and what I never want you to forget.  Regardless of how much you hear about the latest and greatest probiotic option or the newest strains of probiotics providing unheard of benefits, one things is still true.  Probiotics are still living organsims which means they are susceptible to the influences of the environment around.  Thankfully, you get to help them control that environment with the food choices that you make.  Lots of fiber, lots of color and a healthy dose of prebiotics in the diet is the tried and true way of building up your probiotics levels.  With this formula, the benefits of probiotics can truly be unleashed.

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