Evidence-Based Tips for a Healthy Gut Microbiome: Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

by Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC | Reviewed by Advisory Board

Gut Health Probiotic

How to Improve Your Gut Health Naturally

Gut health seems to be all the buzz as of late in the health and fitness realm. But what are the signs of a healthy gut microbiome? What does it mean to have a healthy gut?

The terminology used when discussing gut health can be quite ambiguous, and therefore, confusing — especially for the general public. If you're considering using probiotics or prebiotics to establish a healthy gut microbiome or fix a "leaky gut," it's crucial first to understand how microbes in the intestinal tract affect the human body.

What is the Gut Microbiome? Gut Bacteria and Gut Microbiota Explained

Microbes in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of humans are collectively referred to as the human gut microbiome. It's estimated that gut bacteria account for over 99% of these microbes, some of which are "good bacteria" while others are less desirable [1].

Research in recent years has found that there are significant variations in the composition of gut microbiota within humans from different geographical regions, ethnic backgrounds, and age groups [2]. Lifestyle choices also impact these divergences.

Interestingly, the balance of gut microbes is suggested to influence a myriad of biological and metabolic processes, even bodyweight regulation and mental health [3]. Studies have shown that those with a greater amount of "unhealthy" gut microbes may have a harder time losing weight, overcoming infections/illness, and controlling inflammation [4, 5].

Signs of an Unhealthy Gut vs. a Healthy Gut

Gut microbes constitute the quintessential “second brain” of the human body. In many ways, human gut microbiota operate like a “virtual organ" of sorts. The good bacteria in the digestive tract/intestines are vital for a healthy immune system, nutrient digestion, body composition, cognitive function, hormonal balance, and much more [6].

Since the gut microbiome is an important modulator of multiple body systems, an imbalance of the "good microbes" and "bad microbes" can deteriorate health and well-being quite rapidly. The signs and symptoms of poor gut health may go well beyond indigestion, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel patterns. In some cases, an unhealthy gut manifests as brain fog, lethargy, higher stress levels, depression, chronic inflammation, erratic blood sugar swings, and even conditions like obesity [7].

Further evidence has shown that gut microbiota play a role in disease progression [8]. Naturally, more people are taking a keen interest in their gut health.

So, what causes the gut microbiota balance to shift one way or the other? Well, mostly the food we eat and our lifestyle choices.

For example, "leaky gut syndrome" and gut dysbiosis are thought to be a result of chronic gastrointestinal inflammation caused by a diet rich in added-sugar-laden foods [9]. On the contrary, plant-based, high-fiber foods are generally good for the beneficial bacteria in your gut [10]. The same goes for fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt since these contain beneficial bacteria (i.e. probiotics).

Not getting enough sleep, a sedentary lifestyle/lack of exercise, overeating, alcohol abuse, and excessive use of antibiotics are other factors that compromise the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract [11].

The good news is that proper nutrition and the use of probiotic supplements are practical, effective interventions to encourage gut health and ensure the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract flourish.

Foods to Eat for Gut Health

Prebiotic Greens

The first order of business for treating an unhealthy gut (or leaky gut) is to eliminate/reduce the intake of pro-inflammatory foods from your diet. When you chronically consume these foods, the intestinal lining — which normally serves as a barrier to the circulatory system — may deteriorate. Consequently, the digestive system is compromised, and your body initiates an inflammatory response after meals to compensate for foreign particles/xenobiotics that enter the bloodstream.  

Research suggests that the primary food culprits of low-grade inflammation include [12]:

  • Added sugars
  • Refined flour
  • Vegetable oils (e.g. soybean, canola, corn, and safflower oils)
  • High-fat dairy products 
  • Grain-fed and processed meat products

It’s imperative to eliminate (or at least greatly limit) your consumption of these foods if you're experiencing symptoms of an unhealthy gut.

The next step is to replace the above foods with fermented foods like plain non-fat Greek yogurt, and plant-based foods that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar. Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics, and those beneficial gut microbiota thrive on indigestible prebiotic fibers and digestion-resistant starch (more on this below).

Studies consistently show that consuming high-fiber foods, especially plant-based sources of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and xylooligosaccharides (XOS), can significantly increase the growth and proliferation of good bacteria in the gut [13, 14]. Even better, these foods starve the not-so-good bacteria in the GI tract, thereby promoting a healthier balance of gut bacteria.

FOS and XOS are plant fibers typically found in foods like aquatic greens (e.g. chlorella and spirulina), sweet potatoes, green bananas, tapioca, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Once you establish a healthy diet for gut health, it may be prudent to take a probiotic supplement as this can expedite the process of restoring a favorable balance of gut bacteria/microbes.

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: What's the Difference?

Due to the well-known intersection of the gut microbiome and human health, probiotics and prebiotics are now highly popular nutritional supplements. To reiterate from above, prebiotics are nutrients that encourage the growth and proliferation of beneficial microbes that live in your gut.

Probiotics, on the contrary, are supplements that deliver viable "friendly microbes" through your digestive tract to the intestines and colon. As you can imagine, prebiotics and probiotics are like a one-two punch for gut health.

Antibiotics are the polar opposite of probiotics; the former kills harmful bacteria, while the latter supplies specific beneficial bacteria (and sometimes, fungi). The conundrum with antibiotics is that they can also kill the good bacteria in your gut. It's likely that excessive reliance on prescription antibiotics has implications for gut health. Probiotics are an ongoing subject of interest for combatting that issue and many other health conditions.

Restore and Maintain a Healthy Gut with the Help of Prebiotics and Probiotics

Transparent Labs Prebiotic Greens has been a staple for many of our consumers that want to keep their gut health in check. We are now expanding our line of health and wellness supplements with probiotics!

TL Gut Health Probiotic

Transparent Labs Gut Health delivers 100 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of ten evidence-based probiotic strains in every serving. Each of these strains has been clinically studied and shown to provide a range of health benefits, including:

  • Support for the immune system
  • Proper nutrient breakdown and digestion
  • Promoting cognitive function
  • Encouraging healthy body composition
  • Restoring beneficial gut bacteria after the use of antibiotics

Importantly, the probiotics in TL Gut Health are capable of surviving the digestive process so they can colonize the intestinal lining. Click here to learn more about the science behind each probiotic strain in TL Gut Health and how to order!

Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC
Elliot Reimers, M.S.(C), CISSN, CNC


Elliot holds a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota, as well as being a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) and Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC). He is currently pursuing a Master's of Science in Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University. Elliot began freelance writing circa 2012 and has since written 100s of articles and several eBooks pertaining to nutritional science, dietary supplements, exercise physiology, and health/wellness. Being a “science whiz,” he has a passion for helping people understand how nutrients (and other chemicals) and exercise work on a cellular and molecular level so they can make smarter choices about what they put in, and do with, their bodies. When Elliot is not busy writing or studying, you can find him pumping iron, hiking the mountains of beautiful Colorado, or perusing nutraceutical research.

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