Here at The Glow we had a lot of questions about how this part of the body works and how we should be looking after it. Instead of relying on our gut feelings (ha, ha) we consulted Dr Vincent Ho, clinical academic gastroenterologist to the University of Western Sydney‘s School of Medicine.
1. What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
The words prebiotic and probiotic might be enough to make your eyes glaze over, but knowing the difference between the two is an important part of understanding how your gut works.
“Prebiotics are selectively fermented ingredients that allow specific changes to the gastrointestinal microbial ecosystem that confer health benefits,” Dr Ho explains. They occur naturally in leeks, asparagus, wheat, oats and soybeans, among other foods.
Probiotics, found in foods like live-cultured yoghurt (more on that in a moment) are living microorganisms.
The main difference lies in how they behave when ingested. Dr Ho says prebiotics reach the colon, or large intestine, unaffected by digestion, while probiotics reach it in an active state and are able to “exert health effects.”
Watch gastroentologist Dr Frank Jackson discussing the difference between probiotics and prebiotics here. Post continues below.
2. So, yoghurt. What does it actually do?
As those cutesy animated ads love to tell us, yoghurt is rich in probiotics and prompts the growth of ‘healthy bacteria‘ in the gut.
“Yoghurt is a coagulated milk product that results from the fermentation of lactic acid in milk by bacteria such as Lactobacillus. Yoghurt contains large quantities of live bacteria at the time of manufacture,” Dr Ho explains.
As you might have guessed, this has some benefits. Dietician Harriet Nobbs told The Glow the healthy bacteria prompted by probiotics “helps with immune function, digestion and in the production of some essential vitamins.”
Dr Ho says the gastrointestinal benefits of yoghurt are believed to work in a few ways. “One mechanism involves the bacteria in yoghurt latching onto the delicate lining of the gut, thereby preventing harmful microbes from accessing the gut. This good bacterium in yoghurt can also interact with the mucosal lymphoid tissue in the gut and enhance its immune function,” he says.