It’s long been known that the bacteria in our bodies have a major impact on our health, with studies suggesting that our microbiome can affect our physical and mental wellbeing. To help you achieve a healthy balance of bacteria, there are now a whole range of products on offer that contain probiotics or prebiotics. But what exactly are these ingredients, how do they differ and, crucially, how can they help you to stay healthy?
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
You’ve probably seen the word ‘probiotics’ advertised on the labels of certain foods and supplements. They’re especially common in dairy products including yoghurts and milks. The word probiotic refers to friendly bacteria, in other words microbes that are good for your health. These bacteria have been shown to offer specific benefits for our wellbeing, such as supporting gut health and improving the function of our digestive systems. They compete with ‘bad’ bacteria that can have a harmful effect on your wellbeing. Probiotics occur naturally in many fermented foods, including yoghurt and sauerkraut.
Although related, prebiotics are different. They are ingredients that promote the growth of friendly bacteria. Essentially, prebiotics are food for probiotics. They help these friendly bacteria to thrive. Probiotics can be found in everything from garlic and honey to bananas and whole grains.
It’s crucial for your health to have a good balance of prebiotics and probiotics.
Why are they important for your health?
The health benefits of probiotics are currently a hot topic in medical research. Many studies have found that these microbes can help to improve digestive health, but they may have advantages far beyond this too. For example, it has been suggested that probiotics could decrease the need for antibiotics, help to protect against colds and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.
Researchers have also looked at the impact of friendly bacteria on mental health. One study carried out by a team at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium found that the majority of gut bacteria are able to produce neurotransmitters, which are chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. If these neurotransmitters, or ‘chemical messengers’, are sent to receptors in the brain, they can have an impact on behaviour and mood. The research team found that two strains of bacteria are lacking in people who have been diagnosed with depression. This adds to increasing evidence of a link between gut health and the brain, although more research is needed in this area.
Prebiotics are important for health because of the role they play supporting probiotics. By promoting the growth of good bacteria, they may help people to experience the health benefits associated with probiotics.
Our knowledge of the positive role that both prebiotics and probiotics can play in protecting and improving our wellbeing is expanding all the time, and there may be a whole range of advantages that we are still unaware of.
How can probiotics and prebiotics promote a healthy intimate area?
One topic that tends to get less attention when it comes to probiotics and prebiotics is how they can improve the health of your intimate area. While many people are aware of the beneficial role that probiotics play on the digestive system, the effects of these good bacteria on intimate health are less widely discussed.
Just like the digestive system, the vaginal area is home to many different types of microorganisms. This can sound scary, but most of these bacteria are probiotics and therefore protect your health. These microbes help to maintain an optimal pH balance in your intimate area, support your immune function and stop harmful bacteria from flourishing. For these reasons, it’s really important that you have enough friendly microbes in this part of your body.
If you don’t, organisms that are bad for your health can thrive, potentially leading to infections such as Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). This is a common infection that can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, including a strong, fishy smell and changes in the colour and consistency of vaginal discharge.
There are a range of things you can do to help relieve the symptoms of BV and prevent it from returning. For example, it’s best to avoid using strongly perfumed soaps to wash your intimate area, and you shouldn’t wash your underwear with strong detergents. Also, try to avoid using vaginal deodorants or douches. By taking these precautions, you can help to restore a healthy balance of bacteria. There are also specific treatments available for BV, including antibiotics and non-antibiotic gels which are available without prescriptions. If you think you may have BV or another intimate health issue, it’s important to talk to your doctor. They will discuss your options with you and help you find the most suitable treatment.
It’s also worth being aware of the positive role that prebiotics can play when it comes to protecting your intimate health. For example, using washes that contain prebiotics like Inulin can help. Inulin nourishes friendly bacteria, helping to restrict the growth of harmful microbes. For this reason, it can support the natural pH balance of your intimate area and help keep a range of unpleasant symptoms at bay.
Whether it’s aiding your digestion, improving your mood or protecting your intimate health, there’s no denying the importance of prebiotics and probiotics for your wellbeing. This means it is essential to understand what they are and how they help you - and to make sure you have enough of them in your body.