Our overall health is dependent on many things; many of them we think and know about – including getting enough sleep, feeding our bodies’ good food, making time for relaxation and not polluting our bodies with toxins and artificial chemicals.

However, one of the things that most people never think about as a major factor in our overall health are the trillions of microbes that live in our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. In fact, researchers have shown that these beneficial bacteria – often called probiotics, as well as a steady supply of nutrients to feed them – called prebiotics – are absolutely essential for our long term health and vitality.

The Difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics sound very similar, but the difference between them is crucial to understand. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that help our GI tract perform its myriad of functions, including: supporting overall immune health, improving digestion, providing energy for and strengthening the GI lining, removing waste products, modifying cholesterol levels and even altering neurotransmitter levels (which can affect mood and behavior). Although there are a myriad of probiotic supplements out on the market, very few contain only strains of beneficial bacteria that have been proven to provide health benefits in humans.

In addition, you need to be sure that the probiotics you are taking are viable (i.e., alive) and have sufficient numbers to do the jobs they need to do. Therefore, searching out a reputable source of probiotics should be your first step.

However, your job isn’t over just because you decided to pop a probiotic capsule in your mouth 1-2 times daily. You need to feed those good bugs to help them do their jobs and overcome any obstacles (i.e., bad bugs) which they come into contact. That is where prebiotics come into play.

Prebiotics are generally fiber-rich compounds that provide food for the probiotics in your gut. Many foods contain prebiotic fibers, including chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, raw garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus and wheat bran. Eating these foods on a regular basis (especially the garlic, leeks, onions and asparagus) can give your ‘good bugs’ the leg up they need to keep your inner machinery running smoothly. If there are days where you fall short of eating these foods, you can also take prebiotic supplements, including things like fructooligosaccharides (FOS) that will help provide your probiotics the nutrients they need.

Give Your Body the Nutrients It Needs to Thrive

Giving your body the nutrients it needs on a daily basis – in the form of good quality foods and drinks – is just the beginning of healthy living. Next, you have to make sure your body can properly break down and utilize all those healthy nutrients. A large part of that job rests with the probiotics that inhabit your GI tract. If your diet doesn’t contain sufficient quantities of food for the probiotics – like onions, garlic and leeks –then supplementing with prebiotic supplements (like FOS) can provide them the building blocks they need to help keep you healthy.