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Prebiotics are a food source for probiotic bacteria. They are thought to be beneficial to the human host, thanks to what is termed their ‘bifidogenic’ effect. This means that they are thought to selectively increase the levels of Bifidobacteria (a genus of beneficial bacteria) in the intestines.
Bifidobacteria are just one of many different 'families' of probiotic bacteria that are important to human health, and less is known about the impact that prebiotics have on these other 'families'. Unless you are specifically aiming to increase Bifidobacteria in the gut it may still be best to take a probiotic supplement, alongside a prebiotic to broaden the diversity of friendly gut bacteria.
Read more: 'What are prebiotics?'.
Prebiotics have received a lot of great press in recent years meaning customers are tending to ask us more about them. This is especially true now that they have been been associated with digestive and immune health properties, anti-ageing mechanisms and weight management characteristics. Subjects close to all of our hearts!
When considering a prebiotic supplement, do bear in mind though that everyone has a different bacterial make-up, and therefore different types of prebiotics and probiotics (or combinations of both) will work for different people. Whilst one patient or customer may feel better on prebiotics and find they help to relieve occasional bloating, another may find discomfort, and believe them to cause bloating.
NB: High doses of prebiotics may cause temporary side-effects such as bloating or flatulence. This should cease within a few days; if it does not, consider recommending a reduced dose of prebiotics and gradually building it up with time.
Healthcare professionals can read more about the Uses of Prebiotics