Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

We take a look at the different roles prebiotics and probiotics play in your gut health. 

Prebiotics and probiotics may sound similar but they play very different roles when it comes to your gut health.

That isn’t to say one is more important than the other. Your body needs both to stay
healthy and balanced.

We like to think of prebiotics and probiotics as a matched set, constantly working together to keep your gut healthy. Together, they aid in digestion and are essential to maintaining a healthy gut. Though what they are and how they work is very different.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that live in your gut. While many of us are conditioned to think of bacteria as ‘bad’, probiotics are the ‘good’ type of bacteria that our bodies rely on.

This type of bacteria is part of your gut microbiome. Made up of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic living things (together known as microbes), our gut microbiome is hard at work aiding in digestion, building our immune system and keeping us healthy [1].

Probiotics, in particular, promote healthy digestion, destroy disease-causing cells, and can produce vitamins [2]. The right mix of probiotics has reduced the symptoms of conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease in many people. Some studies have shown that probiotics can also help with skin conditions, promote good oral health, and even improve your mood [3].

One of the best ways to introduce probiotics into your gut is to eat a healthy diet full of plant-based foods and probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir.

Probiotic supplements are also available, though it is important to do your research. As the latest science is coming to understand, there are many challenges to ensuring the efficacy of probiotic supplements and some probiotic foods. This partially comes down to the bacteria’s ability to survive the first few parts of the digestion process to make it to the small and large intestine intact. This is where the bacteria need to live to be beneficial.

Also, it is important to remember that each individual’s microbiome is unique. There is not a one-size-fits-all recipe for a particular species of bacteria or even an amount that will be 100% beneficial. In some cases, such as when there is a considerable microbial imbalance in the gut, taking unmeasured amounts of various probiotics can actually aggravate some conditions. When it comes to probiotics, you should always keep an eye on the viable bacterial cell count measured by CFU (colony forming units) per gram or mL. As with any supplement, it is best to consult your doctor before introducing it into your diet.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are a component in certain foods that the body can’t digest. It may sound counterintuitive, but prebiotics are essential to maintaining a healthy gut. They are designed to pass through your body undigested to promote probiotic growth. Essentially, prebiotics act as food for the bacteria in your gut microbiome and in turn provide a balance of microorganisms that live there.

Prebiotics are found naturally in foods such as whole grains, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus, sweet potatoes, beans, and peas. You can also find prebiotics in supplement form or through drinks such as our Revibe sodas with their prebiotic fibre blend.

You may notice that many prebiotic foods are high fibre foods. Though, it is important to note that although all prebiotics are fibre, not all fibre is prebiotic. According to Joanne Slavin from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, for a food to be defined as a prebiotic, it needs to selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria, be fermented by the intestinal microflora, and not be absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract [4].

Bottom Line

Both prebiotics and probiotics play an essential role in gut health. To keep your gut happy and healthy, it is good practice to consume a diet rich in both prebiotic and probiotic foods. Remember that your gut is entirely unique - what may work for one person may not work for you.

 

Sources

 

Slavin J. Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):1417–1435. Published 2013 Apr 22. doi:10.3390/nu5041417

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705355/

https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/g25475377/best-prebiotic-foods/

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-are-probiotics-and-what-do-they-do

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323490.php#benefits-and-side-effects-of-prebiotics

https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/g25475377/best-prebiotic-foods/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/prebiotics-probiotics-and-your-health/art-20390058

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm


Belobrajdic, D., Brownlee, I., Hendrie, G., Rebuli, M., Bird, T. (2018). Gut health and weight loss: An overview of the scientific evidence of the benefits of dietary fibre during weight loss. CSIRO, Australia.

Probiotics in Food Systems: Significance andEmerging Strategies Towards Improved Viability andDelivery of Enhanced Beneficial ValueAntonia Terpou1, Aikaterini Papadaki2, Iliada K. Lappa2, Vasiliki Kachrimanidou2,Loulouda A. Bosnea3,* and Nikolaos Kopsahelis2,*1Food Biotechnology Group, Department of Chemistry, University of Patras, GR-26500 Patras, Greece2Department of Food Science and Technology, Ionian University, Argostoli, 28100 Kefalonia, Greece3Hellenic Agricultural Organization DEMETER, Institute of Technology of Agricultural Products, DairyDepartment, Katsikas, 45221 Ioannina,