You’ve likely heard of probiotics before, but what about prebiotics? These are just as important as probiotics, but the good news is you likely already have some prebiotics in your diet without even knowing it! Combined, these two can promote gut health, prevent overgrowth of harmful bacteria within the body, and provide other benefits. So, what are prebiotics and probiotics exactly? Are there any specific benefits of prebiotics and probiotics for women? Read on to find out!
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Probiotics serve the body in a wide range and in many different ways. For example, probiotics support the immune system and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics also help with digestion, and proper transit of food. Probiotics produce necessary vitamins and short chained-fatty acids that are needed for proper bodily functions and help maintain proper gut pH. Probiotics have also been shown to interact with the immune system, the endocrine and nervous system. These are some of the many important actions of probiotics.
Certain circumstances can alter the normal gut bacteria in our digestive tract. Most notably antibiotics, which often kill the good bacteria in our body in addition to the bad bacteria as well as dietary changes will alter the probiotic landscape in our gut. There are also certain conditions in which probiotics may have a beneficial effect such as IBS or antibiotic associated diarrhea.
Different formulations of probiotics exist, each with their own unique benefits and most supplements contain not just one but multiple strains in an attempt to harness the benefits of each. Probiotics can also be obtained from dietary sources as well such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, and some cheeses (those labeled with live cultures).
So probiotics are the good bacteria we want in our bodies, while prebiotics is the food that they eat, the food for the good bacteria in our body. And what do the beneficial bacteria in our body like to “eat”? Nondigestible fiber, or insoluble fiber.
Some examples include chicory root fiber, flaxseed walnuts, onions, sweet potatoes, and even cacao in dark chocolate! Or, you can try a food with prebiotic fiber inside!
Prebiotics and probiotics for women
What benefits do probiotics hold for women in particular? There are a few ways in which there are benefits to probiotics for women. For one, probiotics can help prevent urinary tract infections, something up to 40%-60% of women experience regularly. They are good for vaginal health, helping to prevent yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, either of which can occur when the balance of good bacteria to harmful organisms is thrown off. They may also play a role in helping with thyroid function and other hormonal processes in the body.
So make sure to take advantage of prebiotics and probiotics as part of a healthy whole food diet.