Defining what is and is not a prebiotic will have commercial consequences.Scientifically, too, an ongoing debate over the meaning of the term “prebiotics” reflects diverging views of how they may actually confer benefits.Enter the probiotics’ conceptual cousin, prebiotics. One’s gut bacteria composition could benefit from prebiotics, but the mechanisms—not to mention the very definition—of prebiotics remain in question.Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Sebastian Kaulitzki. Although probiotics consist of live microbes, prebiotics are microbe food: substances metabolized by microbes that are not digestible by the host.Despite being a couple of decades behind probiotics in research, prebiotics are potentially key ingredients in the evolving stew of gut influencers.The goal of manipulating whole microbial populations through selective feeding raises practical challenges; as health products, both probiotics and prebiotics exist somewhere in the poorly regulated space between food and drugs.
Certain gut bacteria are also able to produce compounds similar to human hormones.
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