lifestyle

Prebiotics: What Are They, Their Sources, and Benefits

Prebiotics: What Are They, Their Sources, and Benefits
Prebiotics: What Are They, Their Sources, and Benefits

A healthy gut paves the way for a healthy body. You may already be familiar with how probiotics can support your digestive health, but prebiotics are just as important.*

If you want to learn how to support your digestive tract and your healthy gut bacteria, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll discuss what prebiotics are, how they differ from probiotics, and the traditional health benefits that prebiotics can provide.*

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that serves as food for the beneficial microorganisms in your digestive tract, which is also known as your gut.

To fully understand prebiotics, it’s helpful to first know a few things about your gut. It is full of microorganisms—such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses—often referred to by scientists as gut microbiota.1

Human gut microbiota are also sometimes called intestinal flora, gut bacteria, or good/beneficial bacteria, because most of them are, in fact, very beneficial. They can help you live a full, healthy, and vibrant life. The collection of these microorganisms is called the gut microbiome; the microbiome is even often thought of as a supporting organ in the body, since it is so critical to our functioning.

Studies suggest these good bacteria support your immune system and play an important role in metabolizing nutrients.*2,3

Simply put, prebiotics are what your good gut bacteria (your gut microbiota) need to thrive and keep you healthy. To help you understand this microorganism food even further, let’s go over the difference between probiotics and prebiotics.

Father and son in nature, eating foods with prebiotics

The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics

Probiotics are living microorganisms. When you ingest probiotics, these new microorganisms are introduced into your system and join the other good bacteria you already have in your gut.4

Probiotics can be consumed through fermented foods like yogurt and kombucha or taken in supplement form.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics, on the other hand, provide the sustenance for the good bacteria that are already in your gut. They are non-digestible, which means they travel through your digestive tract unscathed so they can give your gut bacteria what they need to flourish.*4

Prebiotics come from two sources: the foods you eat as well as dietary supplements.

Two Forms of Prebiotics

Prebiotic Foods

Example of prebiotic food

Fortunately, there are many foods that contain prebiotics. That means you can take your pick when it comes to consuming foods that will nourish and support your gut microbiota.

Here are some examples of beneficial foods that contain prebiotics:4,5

  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Wheat
  • Honey
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Jerusalem artichokes

    Prebiotic Supplements

    Microbiome Food

    Your gut, or microbiome, contains hundreds of different probiotics, all of which have different nutritional needs.

    The main benefit of a prebiotic supplement—which contains a combination of prebiotic ingredients—is that it can support a broader range of healthy probiotics than a single food can.* Supplements provide your gut with concentrated nourishment that you often cannot get from your diet alone.*

    We’re proud of what’s in our herbal supplements, such as our Microbiome Food. One serving of Gaia Herbs Microbiome Food is chock-full of prebiotics.* It contains Larch, Acacia, Acerola, Inulin, Fenugreek, Cinnamon, Ginger, and Marshmallow. (Keep reading for details on each of these herbs.)

    We intentionally selected herbs for this formula that have been shown through research and traditional usage to support a healthy microbiome and digestive function by acting as food sources for beneficial bacteria.*

    In particular, this formula contains clinically researched levels of Larch gum, which has shown promise in studies to support a healthy immune system response.*

    Let’s briefly discuss each of these wonderful herbs.

    Acacia

    Acacia (Acacia senegal) is a small to medium-sized tre

    Acacia (Acacia senegal) is a small to medium-sized tree that belongs to the pea and bean family. Different parts of the plant have different traditional uses, but the parts that interest us in this article are its branches and stems.

    Gum acacia or gum arabic is a water-soluble dietary fiber that comes from the branches and stems of the Acacia tree. It not only acts as a prebiotic, providing food for good bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, but it can also provide other benefits for digestion.*

    Fenugreek

    Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), indigenous to the Mediterranean area, is a member of the legume family and has highly nutritive properties.

    Throughout the years, and within various traditions, Fenugreek has been used for a variety of other purposes as well, including blood sugar support and lactation support.*

    Acerola

    Acerola (Malpighia glabra) is native to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean islands, and one of its biggest claims to fame is that it’s one of the highest natural sources of vitamin C.

    It’s a fragile fruit that can’t usually be found outside of where it’s grown, which is why it’s especially helpful to consume this fruit through an herbal supplement.

    Agave

    Agave (Agave tequiliana) is a hardy succulent with an unusual life cycle. It can take from 10 to 25 years for an Agave plant to grow a flower stalk. Then, as soon as it starts blooming, the plant begins to die.

    Cultivated Agave, on the other hand, is harvested by hand after only four or five years of growth.

    In addition, the inside of the Agave plant (called the piña) contains a sweet sap. This sap is what is concentrated to make the Agave syrup we know and love. However, the Agave plant has many other uses, ranging from making fabric and paper from its leaves to creating soap from the root.

    And, what we love most is that the inulin of Agave is a prebiotic.

    Cinnamon

    Cinnamon is an herb you probably keep around the kitchen, but you may not know that it’s also used traditionally. The Cinnamon tree is a tall (sometimes over 50 feet!) tropical tree that is related to plants such as bay leaf and sassafras.

    Scientifically known as Cinnamomum spp., this common household spice is used within multiple herbal medicine traditions.

    In Western herbalism, Middle Eastern herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurvedic Medicine, it supports everything from digestion to glycemic balance.*

    As far as digestive support goes, Cinnamon contains mucilage and tannins, which are believed to help soothe and tone the tissues of your digestive tract as well as stimulate blood flow to the digestive lining.*

    Ginger

    Ginger

    Another spice that’s quite famous in the kitchen, Ginger (Zingiber officinale) grows in subtropical, volcanic soil in the southern hemisphere. The root of this plant is what’s used in the kitchen and as a traditional herb.

    Ginger is used to provide foundational support and to provide relief from occasional nausea and upset stomach.*

    Larch

    Larch (Larix spp.) belongs to the same family as trees like spruces, firs, and pines, and its needles turn yellow and fall off each year. Like many other herbs, different parts of this tree have been used for various beneficial purposes over the centuries.

    North American tribes made tea from the bark, and a poultice from the inner bark was used for burns, while crushed leaves and bark were applied for headaches.*

    In addition to a wealth of other health benefits, we now know that Larch gum contains arabinogalactans, making it a valuable prebiotic.*

    Marshmallow

    The last herb that we use in our Microbiome Food prebiotic supplement is Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), a plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. You may know this plant as simply Hollyhocks.

    Marshmallow contains mucilage, a slime that can be found throughout the plant. One way that mucilage benefits the digestive tract is by supporting the mucosal membranes in the intestines.*

     Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

    These are the eight herbs that you can easily take with one small spoonful of Gaia Herbs Microbiome Food.

    This plant-based prebiotic powder has a delightful Cinnamon flavor and no added fillers, flavors, animal products, or sweeteners. Simply mix one teaspoon in four to six ounces of water and drink it once a day between meals. You can gradually increase this dose to one tablespoon daily.

    Now that we’ve discussed the forms of prebiotics, let’s go over some of the benefits of providing your body with prebiotics as well as the positive aspects of choosing to take a prebiotic supplement.

    Traditional Health Benefits of Prebiotics

    Man hiking on a mountain

    Prebiotics help your gut microbiome stay healthy, which is important for your overall health.* Remember, a healthy gut is believed to support a healthy immune system and other bodily functions.*

    Another benefit of prebiotics is that negative side effects are minimal. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., says, “Side effects are rare, and most healthy adults can safely add foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics to their diets.”6

    Learn more about your gut microbiome and related research findings in our article here.

    Woman making a heart around her stomach

    So, we now know that feeding your gut microbiome is essential and can be done through the foods you eat as well as supplements. But there are specific benefits of opting for a prebiotic supplement rather than simply counting on your food to nourish your gut microorganisms.

    We’ll review some of the advantages of adding supplements—and, specifically, Gaia Herbs Microbiome Food—to your daily regimen.

    Traditional Health Benefits of Prebiotic Supplements

    An Easy Way to Consume Multiple Prebiotic Herbs & Ingredients*

    As we mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of taking a prebiotic supplement is that many of them, like our Microbiome Food, are packed with synergistic blends of beneficial herbs and plants that you probably don’t get in your everyday diet.

    This helps support the various nutritional needs of the many good bacteria in your gut.*

    Can Soothe Digestive Upset*

    A prebiotic supplement can also go a long way when it comes to supporting digestive health in general and keeping you feeling your best.*

    In Gaia Herbs Microbiome Food, we included herbs that are traditionally used to soothe digestive upset—such as occasional gas, bloating, and cramping—including Fenugreek seed, Cinnamon bark, Ginger, and Marshmallow root.*

    Fenugreek, Cinnamon bark, and Marshmallow root also provide a source of soothing fiber and food for healthy GI microorganisms.*

    Additionally, these ingredients along with Acerola and Ginger, which are also included in our Microbiome Food formula, are important sources of antioxidant polyphenols for a healthy microbiome and intestinal environment.* In general, this formula is designed to help maintain digestive health, function, and regularity.*

    Supports Immune Response*

    In addition to supporting your immune system through strengthening your gut microbiome, the right prebiotic supplement can also support your immune response in other ways.*

    For example, the Acerola in our Microbiome Food is notable for being a significant natural source of vitamin C and other antioxidant compounds, such as carotenoids.* Vitamin C has long been used to help support immune defenses.*

    With prebiotic supplements, you can continue living the life you love by maintaining a healthy gut and a thriving immune system.*

    Easy to Take

    Supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet. However, there is something to be said about the simplicity of drinking your daily portion of prebiotics.

    We recommend choosing a supplement that is quick and easy to take and provides you with a concentrated dose of gut-healthy prebiotics so you can keep living your best life.*

    Gaia Herbs Microbiome Food powder is convenient to use and mixes easily in water. And even more important, this great-tasting powder blend is made without added fillers, flavors, or sweeteners.*

    Additional Supplements for Digestive Health

    Prebiotics are an essential part of caring for your digestive health, but they form only part of the picture. In fact, herbs can support your digestive system in all sorts of other ways.*

    Before we wrap up, we’ll share a few other ways to put herbs to work.

    Drink Herbal Tea

    Woman drinking tea with Prebiotics

    A mug of warm tea can be so comforting—and it’s even better if your tea contains herbs that will support your digestive system in the ways you need it most.*

    When you feel gassy and bloated (sometimes it just happens), sip on Fennel, Licorice, Chamomile, and Peppermint by brewing a cup of Gaia Herbs Gas & Bloating Herbal Tea.*

    Or, if you’re having trouble getting things moving, turn to Gaia Herbs Natural Laxative Herbal Tea, an aromatic brew that provides gentle overnight relief from occasional constipation.*

    With Caraway, Senna, Lemon Balm, and more, this herbal tea is a tasty way to support your body’s natural elimination process.* And the Lemon Balm used in this tea is grown right here on our very own Gaia farm.

    At Gaia Herbs, we are firm believers that the quality of an herbal supplement can only be as good as the quality of the herbs that go into it. That’s why many of the herbs in our products are grown on our farm, where we can cultivate them exactly the way we want.

    For other herbs that we cannot grow on our own farm or in the quantity that we need, our network of organic and sustainable communities allows us to source herbs from where they grow best.

    While we love the option of sipping on tea, if you prefer to address gas, bloating, or occasional constipation with tablets or capsules instead, try Gaia Herbs Gas & BloatingTM capsules with activated charcoal and our Natural Laxative tablets.

    Regardless of which product you choose, find out more about the herbs in your particular supplement by visiting meetyourherbs.com, the world’s first herb traceability platform.

    Here, you will discover where your herbs come from; learn how they were grown, harvested, and extracted; and see validation of your product’s level of purity and potency. We believe that you deserve to know exactly what’s in your herbal supplements.

    Take Herbs for Indigestion

     Gaia Herbs Reflux ReliefⓇ

    You can also turn to Mother Nature for natural relief from occasional heartburn and indigestion.* We’ve made Gaia Herbs Reflux ReliefⓇ with Aloe, Chamomile, Marshmallow, Licorice, and Spearmint to help cool occasional heartburn and relieve indigestion.*

    This formula features an expert blend of herbs as well as mineral nutrients to provide relief when you need it most.* After all, digestive upset can be more than a little uncomfortable.

    Simply chew one tablet and allow it to dissolve in your mouth.

    Use Herbs to Soothe Your Child’s Upset Tummy

     Gaia Herbs GaiaKids® Tummy Tonic

    With the right herbal supplement crafted for kids, you can also make use of herbs to support your child’s digestive health.*

    Gaia Herbs GaiaKids® Tummy Tonic provides great-tasting support for occasional upset tummies.*

    This tasty, doctor-developed formula contains many of the herbs we’ve mentioned before (including Chamomile, Ginger, Fennel, Lemon Balm, and Spearmint), and the liquid extract comes with a dropper so you can accurately give your child the correct serving.

    Little ones ages six months to two years should take 15 drops, while ages three to six can take 30 to 40 drops diluted in water. Kids between the ages of seven and 13 should take 60 drops.

    Speaking of liquid extracts, keep in mind that many of our supplements for adults are in the form of Liquid Phyto-Caps®. Liquid Phyto-Caps offer a concentrated liquid in the convenience of a capsule.

    And, of course, you can rest assured that they are 100% vegetarian and tested to be free of heavy metals, pesticides, and microbes.

    Prebiotics for Digestive Health*

    Woman drinking water outside after taking prebiotics

    Prebiotics are the nourishment that your gut microorganisms need to thrive. And a healthy gut microbiome is essential to your overall health.*

    To support your gut, opt for foods that contain prebiotics, such as asparagus, honey, whole grains, and bananas, and choose a prebiotic supplement, such as Gaia Herbs Microbiome Food.

    Adding this prebiotic supplement to your routine will allow you to treat your body to out-of-the-ordinary herbs, including Acacia, Fenugreek, Larch, and Marshmallow, that you probably don’t work into your diet on a daily basis.

    Your gut (and your whole body) will thank you.

    REFERENCES:

    1. Eamonn M. M. Quigley, Gastroenterology & Hepatology, vol. 9,9 (2013): 560-9, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973.
    2. Mary Cheung, MD and Barbara Brody, https://thewell.northwell.edu/well-informed/6-things-you-should-know-about-your-gut-bacteria.
    3. Harvard Health Publishing, October 14, 2016, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health.
    4. Health Essentials, Cleveland Clinic, March 25, 2020, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/prebiotics-vs-probiotics-whats-the-difference/.
    5. Dorna Davani-Davari, et al. Foods (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 8,3 92, March 9, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6463098.
    6. Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.,Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065.