1. What are they?
Prebiotics are a type of undigestible plant fiber that promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria within your microbiome (the entire genetic material of all the microorganisms [bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses] that live in and on the human body). The more food the bacteria have, the better they work.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are live bacteria that are taken in food/supplement form which help maintain an optimal balance of bacteria in your body.
2. Why are they important?
Prebiotics are the ultimate support system. The good bacteria in your microbiome play an important role in many physiological processes in the body, including digestion, metabolism, and the immune function. With modern day stressors (e.g. Standard American Diet, antibiotics, stress) the balance of the microbiome is often disrupted creating the need for supplemental probiotics. Without having any prebiotics within your gut, there is little incentive for the probiotics to stick around and repopulate.
3. Where can I find them?
Prebiotics naturally occurs in bananas, onions, garlic, tomatoes, leeks, asparagus, turmeric, okra, Jerusalem artichokes, and chicory. They can also be purchased in powdered forms from your local health foods store.
4. How much should I take?
When it comes to prebiotic supplements/powders, it is best to start small and work yourself up. While side effects are rare, if extremely high doses are ingested, you may experience abdominal pain, gas, and bloating. Rule of thumb: Have at least 1 prebiotic-rich food daily.
5. When should I take them?
To avoid discomfort, prebiotic powders are best consumed with a meal. Prebiotics are found naturally in many plant-based foods, but excess consumption may be irritating to some IBS and SIBO patients. Always check with a healthcare practitioner if prebiotics are right for you.