By Jean Hofve, DVM
Prebiotics, probiotics, what’s up with that? Are these the same thing? What do they do?
It turns out that pre- and pro- biotics are very different products, although they both have most of their effects in the large intestine (colon). Prebiotics and probiotics work hand-in-hand to maintain your pet’s healthy digestive system.
Prebiotics are actually a special form of plant fiber that helps nourish the normal flora (bacteria) that live in the colon; i.e., they feed the probiotics. They consist of indigestible chains of polysaccharides (technically, sugars, but they don’t add any calories to the food!)
You might hear prebiotics referred to as inulin or fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Prebiotics come in different “sizes”—short, medium, and long-chain. While each of these have particular effects, it’s best to just use a general-purpose, full-spectrum prebiotic that contains all the varieties.
Prebiotics are known to improve mineral absorption, regulate bowel function, reduce local inflammation, and support the immune system.
Probiotics, such as L. acidophilus, Bifidobacteria, and other ‘friendly’ beneficial bacteria, normally live in the colon, and maintain a balanced, healthy gut, and prevent “bad” bacteria, such as Salmonella, from gaining a foothold. A healthy intestinal bacterial population is also needed to manufacture B vitamins and Vitamin K.
The term “probiotics” (which means “promoting life”) covers a variety of “friendly” bacteria that are beneficial for the digestive tract. These include Lactobacillus acidophilus and other Lactobacillus species, and certain strains of Bacillus, Bifidobacteria, and Streptococcus, all of which are commonly found in over-the-counter probiotic supplements.
Probiotics promote a balanced and healthy bacterial population in the gut, which is important for complete digestion and general well-being. Intestinal bacteria aid in digesting certain nutrients by providing enzymes that the body does not make on its own.
It’s easy to add prebiotics and probiotics to your pet’s diet. Some people recommend yogurt, but it typically contains100,000 CFU (colony-forming units) per ml, while good-quality probiotic supplements contain a million or more CFU. It is better to use a supplement that contains at least Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, as well as a full-spectrum prebiotic.
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