Prebiotics: what they are and what they are for

foods with prebiotics

The preservation of the intestinal microbiome has become one of the main concerns. Medical professionals and nutrition experts are increasingly focusing on the collection of bacteria that reside in the digestive system as they thrive on prebiotics. Many people wonder what are prebiotics and what are they for?

In this article we are going to tell you what newspapers are, their characteristics and what they are for.

What are prebiotics

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Certain foods contain substances known as prebiotics, which humans cannot digest. These prebiotics play a crucial role in supporting the growth and function of beneficial microorganisms residing in the intestine as they pass through this organ.

As stated in a publication in Foods magazine, although there is no universally accepted definition of prebiotics, it is widely recognized that they must meet certain criteria:

  • They maintain resistance to the corrosive effects of stomach acid and are not absorbed by the digestive system.
  • They promote the fermentation process within the digestive microbiota, resulting in the stimulation of beneficial growth among intestinal bacteria, ultimately benefiting the host.
  • Dietary fibers that meet the specified criteria include inulin, pectin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and resistant starch. These particular fibers have been extensively researched.

How are probiotics different?


There is often confusion between terms and concepts, but it is important to note that they are different. Probiotics, which encompass various strains such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, refer to live microorganisms (including bacteria, archaea, and yeast) that They offer health benefits when ingested in sufficient quantities.

By contrast, Prebiotics are not made of microorganisms. Rather, they are substances designed to nourish the microbiota. On the other hand, probiotics, when consumed, integrate into the microbiota.

The origins of these two compounds will also be different. Prebiotics can be obtained from foods rich in fiber, while probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut.

It is important to consider that it is necessary to evaluate the viability of probiotics after ingestion. Since probiotics are live microorganisms, they are at risk of dying when exposed to the pH of the stomach. On the contrary, fiber inherently resists this acidity.

Several sources provide prebiotics for promoting healthy intestinal bacteria. When it comes to foods rich in prebiotics, it is important to note that they contain fermentable soluble fiber. We must also take into account the cooking methods we choose, as they can potentially decrease the fiber content.

Where can I get inulin?


Belonging to the fructan family, inulin is a particular type of fiber. This linear polysaccharide is made up of fructose and glucose units.

The following are some examples of natural sources that contain inulin:

  • Chicory
  • Asparagus
  • Burdock root
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Whole grains
  • Green bananas
  • Leeks

Resistant starch can be obtained from various sources. It is commonly found in dietary supplements and is also used as an additive in certain processed food products.

Natural sources of resistant starch, which remains undigested and reaches the colon in its entirety to provide fuel for bacterial fermentation, include the following:

  • Boiled and chilled potatoes
  • Green bananas
  • Brown Rice
  • Vegetables
  • Barley
  • Oatmeal

The following are the main sources of pectin, a form of dietary fiber found in the cell walls of plants and considered a crucial prebiotic:

  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Peaches
  • Green beans

With its gelling properties, pectin serves as a valuable component in the production of homemade and industrial jams and jellies.

Health effects of prebiotics

The beneficial compounds are produced when the gut microbiota ferments prebiotics. Among these compounds are short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including lactic acid, butyric acid, and propionic acid.

The interaction between prebiotics and intestinal flora produces compounds that have been shown to have numerous beneficial impacts on the functions of the human body. These are some of the key effects:

  • The severity of allergic reactions, particularly those related to lung inflammation, were significantly decreased in animal trials using prebiotics. This suggests that prebiotics could serve as a complementary treatment for people with allergies in the future.
  • For the microbiota to self-regulate effectively, a diet rich in prebiotics is necessary. That is, if the food it receives is adequate, its diversity will increase, allowing it to perform its functions to the maximum. This, in turn, improves the body's overall homeostasis, extending beyond the digestive system.
  • A recent publication in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics suggests that Butyric acid has the potential to act as a regulator of the large intestine mucosa. This indicates that the compound has the ability to decrease inflammatory responses within colon cells, which could serve as a preventive measure against the development of malignant diseases.
  • The impact of fermentation products entering the bloodstream can influence metabolism. Animal studies and research on short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) indicate that they have the potential to be used in weight loss strategies. This area of ​​study holds great promise for addressing the problems of overweight and obesity. However, a review published in the journal Nutrients recommends caution and emphasizes the need for more research data before implementing these findings into daily clinical practice.

Is it possible to use prebiotics as a means of addressing intestinal ailments?

The therapeutic potential of prebiotics in the treatment of disorders of the digestive system is a topic of ongoing research, reports the Gastroenterology Clinics of North America. This is considered the area where prebiotics can have the greatest impact in terms of medical treatment.

The effectiveness of prebiotic supplements, whether marketed or prescribed, depends on several factors, including the specific type of prebiotic, the dose administered, and the individual's underlying health status. Consequently, it is imperative that these supplements be gradually incorporated into the diet and supervised by a doctor.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about what prebiotics are and their characteristics.