The two words sound so close. That can make understanding this area tricky, but really it is quite simple.
Your body needs bacteria to survive and to function. It is not an optional or “that would be nice” situation. It is a core part of being alive.
But there are hundreds and hundreds of strains of bacteria in, and on, the human body. It is really never a question of “let's get more bacteria” as they are always around and about. As someone once said, “If you don’t like bacteria, pick another planet!”
The key to healthy functioning and living is not more bacteria, but a HEALTHY balance and abundance of the right bacteria. We call these strains PROBIOTICS, as they are healthy bacteria that provides a benefit to you and your body. (“pro” meaning FOR and “biotics” meaning having to do with LIFE)
Think of a farm and all the animals. You can bring in a bunch of cows and chickens and such. Then feed them nothing but cookies and sugar, after a while they will get sick and die. No matter how many animals you bring onto the farm, if you continue to feed them the wrong food then you will never have healthy animals.
The same is true for your gut bacteria (and the bacteria anywhere else, like your mouth). They need the right food to survive.
We call this food “prebiotic” as it comes before life, just like a meal (“pre” means before and “biotic” has to do with life). Prebiotics are foods that bacteria need to survive.
But these are not necessarily the foods that you crave or that you can even digest as a human. In fact, for your gut bacteria the best kinds of prebiotics are INDIGESTIBLE fibers. Your stomach won’t break these down, but the healthy bacteria in your gut will LOVE it. Stuff like chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes and dandelion greens are super foods for the good bacteria in your gut.
But foods you might crave, like breads, pastas and sugars are not only bad for feeding the good bacteria, these foods actually promote the overgrowth of other “bad” bacteria. The end result is an unhealthy gut and TONS of health problems.
So, it is simple. You can bring all the animals you like onto your farm (probiotics) but you better provide the right food and nutrition for them (prebiotics) or they will just get sick and die.
Prebiotics are the foods and nutritive substances that feed and promote a healthy bacterial balance in your gut.
The takeaway here is that if you want a healthy gut then DON'T just take probiotic supplements and expect great results. That is like bringing animals onto the farm and not feeding them. Make sure you get LOTS of prebiotic foods into your body and the bacteria will thrive!