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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 person may feel better on prebiotics and find they help to relieve occasional bloating, another may find discomfort, and believe them to cause bloating.
As already mentioned, whilst prebiotics are known to have a very positive effect on Bifidobacteria, there is less research to evidence their feeding other types of good bacteria such as Lactobacilli strains, and therefore it may be beneficial to top up one's levels of beneficial bacteria as well as taking prebiotics
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.
If you are still unsure of the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, and whether you should be recommending one or the other, or both, read our article Probiotics & Prebiotics.