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The difference between probiotics and prebiotics –and how they can help you

Just when you thought you understood nutrition, along comes new terms to learn. One of the newer buzz words related to health is probiotics, which team up with prebiotics for a deeper understanding of how your body operates. Although they only differ by a single letter, prebiotics and probiotics are very different.

What are they?
Every surface of the human body has microscopic creatures known as bacteria. The ones found in the lining of your gastrointestinal tract or gut form a miniature ecosystem known as a microbiome. Like all systems, this microbiome works most efficiently when everything is in balance. Even though you may not be aware of it, this microbiome plays a big role in your health including your mood and behavior. The two things that need to stay in balance are the number of living microbes or probiotics and the food for these microbes which are prebiotics.

Probiotics generally fall into two different families known as Lactobacillus strains and Bifidobacterium strains. Many lightly fermented foods naturally contain probiotics including sauerkraut, yogurt and pickles. But probiotics can also be taken as a food supplement. Many supplements need to be refrigerated so the live bacteria is able to thrive and reproduce, however, some brands have special packaging and can be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight at room temperature or below.

In contrast, prebiotics are not alive or bacteria. They are specialized plant fibers that help stimulate the growth of those healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates. These varieties of complex carbohydrates can’t be digested and so they travel through the digestive system and become food for the bacteria and microbes found there. Some common sources for prebiotics are bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic, artichokes and legumes. They can also be taken as a food additive or a supplement.

There are some foods that contain both prebiotics and probiotics. Some foods that contain both substances include cheese, kefir and some varieties of yogurt.

Will taking these supplements make you healthier?
Nearly 4 million adults take probiotics for their health, according to a 2012 National Institutes of Health study, but more research is needed to clearly define the benefits. Some people find that prebiotics and probiotics help in treating diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies and the common cold. Studies are being done to see if they can help stop the spread of cancer and treat inflammatory arthritis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that commercial probiotics and prebiotics are generally safe for healthy people. However, every probiotic is different because of the variations in bacteria strains, so what may work for one person, may not work for someone else. For example, there are more than 120 different species of the Lactobacillus and about 12 of them are used as probiotics. Even if you know the species that is in the supplement, the amount can vary. Too much or too little could throw off the balance of the microbiome.

There are some situations that seem to be helped through prebiotics and probiotic combinations. One example are people on antibiotic medications. These antibiotic medications can kill off good bacteria as well as bad bacteria so adding good bacteria can help bring the gut back into balance.

The best course of action is to talk with your physician before taking any supplements. He or she may be able to help with types and brands to help achieve the desired results.

Nutrition during recovery
It is easy to forget how important a proper diet can be to health, especially when recovering from surgery or another medical event. During the healing process proper nutrition becomes very important as the body needs increased amounts of calories, protein, vitamins A and C, and sometimes the mineral zinc. If you are taking antibiotics, care needs to be taken to replace good bacteria.

During a time of recovery, it can be difficult to give the necessary attention to nutrition, therapy, infection prevention, pain management and myriad other concerns. This is why people who want to recover as quickly as possible from surgery, joint replacements, strokes, cardiac illness and other conditions often turn to Whitehall of Deerfield where you can be sure that attention is being given to everything from eating healthy meals to regaining lost strength — thanks to an experienced team of professionals who provide a high level of care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As the North Shore’s premier rehabilitation center, Whitehall of Deerfield offers an unparalleled recovery experience. Guests receive personalized one-on-one physical, occupational and speech therapies seven days a week from a team of top therapists who ensure patients are getting the best care possible. The latest techniques, as well as expert pain management and wound care, are provided to help make the stay as short and safe as possible.

Guests feel pampered at this elegant rehabilitation center by an attentive staff. Guest rooms feature attractive furnishings, WiFi, concierge service, voice mail, in-room dining, Starbucks coffee and snacks, exclusive 24-hour movie channel, delivery of a daily newspaper and more. A gourmet coffee shop and ice cream parlor also offers complimentary baked goods and ice cream treats throughout the day.

For a superior recovery in a luxurious setting, choose Whitehall of Deerfield. Visit whitehallofdeerfield.com or call 847-729-9090 for additional information.

300 Waukegan Road Deerfield, IL 60015 | 847.945.4600