The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics and Probiotics

The human gut is a fascinating and sometimes complex ecosystem that houses trillions of microorganisms. We have been studying the gut since the 1950s, but we still don't know everything about it.

One area that has recently received a lot of attention is how to maintain gut health through the use of prebiotics and probiotics. This article will discuss the difference between these two, how they are both helpful in health and wellness. This blog post will focus on prebiotics and probiotics and prebiotic and probiotic supplements, which are two different types of products with very different purposes.   

What are Prebiotics

Prebiotics are fibrous compounds found naturally in foods like onions, garlic, asparagus, and bananas; they stimulate growth from our good bacteria while preventing bad ones from taking over.

They work to create an environment within the gut where probiotics can thrive. These fibrous compounds reach the colon completely intact, where they then feed beneficial bacteria, stimulating their growth and development. Studies have shown that increasing your intake of prebiotic fibres has many health benefits, such as aiding digestion, immunity, hormonal balance, and weight management. Prebiotics also encourage the growth of healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus which help us digest food and reduce inflammation in the body. 

What are Probiotics

Probiotics are bacteria or yeasts that we ingest in order to promote healthy populations of live beneficial microorganisms within our bodies; they can be found in both foods and dietary supplements.

They are either "live cultures" or actual strains of microorganisms that contribute to overall intestinal health by promoting healthy bacteria. 

Probiotics are responsible for improving gut health, and they also offer other benefits that you may not be aware of. These strains can help treat chronic fatigue syndrome, prevent allergies, aid in weight loss, improve lactose intolerance symptoms, reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotics and even depression, among many other conditions.

Types of Probiotics

The three most common probiotic types include:

1. Lactobacillus - this strain is recommended for supporting immune system function because of its ability to combat harmful organisms such as Candida albicans.

2. Bifidobacterium - Bifidobacterium is good at preventing diarrhea and vaginal infections as well as developing a healthy immune system.

3. Saccharomyces boulardii - this probiotic strain is mainly used to treat antibiotic-associated diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.

It's important to point out that there are many other strains of probiotics, but these are considered the most beneficial.

Types of Probiotics Supplements

Probiotic supplements are available in several different types, including:

1. Capsules

2. Powders

3. Drinks

4. Sprays or gels

5. Tablets

Probiotics are different from prebiotics in that they are living organisms, whereas prebiotics are non-living and often plant-based. But they do have a lot in common.

Prebiotics vs Probiotics

Though not yet thoroughly studied, there could be a relationship between prebiotic consumption and emotional health just as there is with physical health (that's why you may experience feelings of calm and well. Prebiotics, however, act as a fuel source and nourishment for probiotic microorganisms.

The benefits of having both in your diet (and why they're so important)

Prebiotics are basically non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon and thus improve host health.

So how do prebiotics help us?

There are many benefits we can get from prebiotics. Among them are as follows:

Prebiotics reduce your risk for obesity.

Studies show that prebiotic consumption can dramatically improve your metabolism and prevent certain bacteria from converting food into fat. Prebiotics accomplish this by altering the gut microbiota and altering bile acid composition, which alters metabolic activity. This causes positive effects on insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism.

Prebiotics enhance your immune function.

In addition to preventing obesity, prebiotics also help prevent infectious diseases like respiratory infections by strengthening barrier immunity [keeping microbes out of your body]. Prebiotic administration has been shown to reduce upper respiratory tract infection symptoms in a randomized placebo-controlled study. It was also found that daily consumption of arabinogalactan prebiotic significantly decreased the average number of days per month with colds or other respiratory infections over four weeks when compared to subjects who took a placebo.

Prebiotics improve lactose intolerance and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

A recent article on prebiotics shows that they increase the lactase enzyme that breaks down lactose. Perhaps more importantly, however, they also improve the immune response to intestinal microbes in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and may reduce IBD symptoms. This is important as previous discoveries regarding probiotic administration have been found ineffective when dealing with IBD or bloating. Although some clinical trials have shown the benefits of supplementation with specific probiotics, not all probiotics can survive until they reach your intestines and are released in amounts that would positively impact your health.

Prebiotics promotes bowel movement.

One of the widely known benefits of prebiotics is their ability to promote bowel movement. Prebiotics are typically fermented in the colon by the hundreds of trillions of bacteria that live there. These bacteria then produce short-chain fatty acids as a result of their fermentation, and these fatty acids can affect movements in your colon. Anecdotally this is one reason why eating foods high in fibre (like beans or whole grains) makes you feel better if you suffer from bloating.

probiotics for gut health

Prebiotic fibres have been shown to stimulate intestinal movement and bowel habits across all ages and risk factors for constipation.

Prebiotics supports a healthy inflammatory response to DNA damage.

The gut microflora is representative of the immune system as a whole, and DNA damage in the bowel's epithelium may promote damage to distant organs such as the liver or colon.

In an animal study, supplementation with prebiotics was associated with a reduction in symptoms related to inflammation following exposure to a cancer chemotherapeutic agent. This may be due to the increase in butyrate-producing bacteria. Butyrate can attenuate inflammation by suppressing NF kappa B and AP1 (a transcription factor that regulates proinflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules) activity while upregulating anti-inflammatory genes.

So how do probiotics help us?

Our digestive tract contains trillions of cells that work together on a daily basis to maintain our overall health. The friendly organisms in probiotic foods can help keep them healthy through several mechanisms. Probiotics produce enzymes, anti-inflammatory agents and acids that support the normal balance of bacteria in your gut; they also stimulate the immune response against dangerous pathogens or harmful microorganisms that invade the body. Furthermore, some good probiotic species may displace potentially harmful organisms from colonizing their territory.

Probiotics can be used to treat depression.

Some scientists believe that probiotics can be used to treat depression, but human trials have not been conducted yet. These effects are attributed to probiotic's

Probiotics may improve the quality of life for people with IBS.

Probiotic foods like yogurt may improve the quality of life for people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Research says that probiotic bacteria, unlike antibiotics, do not kill 'good' bacteria that line the digestive tract. Some people with IBS have problems digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk products such as yogurt. Yogurt with live and active cultures may relieve some symptoms of IBS. Lactobacillus acidophilus is one type of probiotic used to improve health.
A review from 2013 included 15 randomized controlled trials comparing a probiotic mixture and placebo or other kinds of treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The researchers concluded that a probiotic mixture might be a helpful supplement for people with IBS.

In another review, from 2014, researchers compared four different kinds of treatments for children and adults with irritable bowel syndrome. The first treatment was with probiotics, another with prebiotics, a diet high in soluble fibre, and a combination of all. The results suggested that while all treatments improved symptoms to some extent at three months, only the combination of dietary changes and probiotics provided significant benefit at nine months.

The Bottom Line: Research suggests that taking a probiotic supplement, especially when combined with other supplements and dietary changes, may help manage irritable bowel syndrome symptoms in the short term. However, more research is needed to determine whether long-term use of probiotics is beneficial in IBS.

Read more about probiotics, including how much you should consume in Probiotics for Gut Health.

Why is it important to know the difference between prebiotics and probiotics

So, why is it essential for us to know how prebiotics are different from probiotics? One key reason is that while prebiotics and probiotics are both beneficial for health, they work differently. To improve your gut health or address any issue with your health, you should know which among these two you should take or if you need both.

More often than not, both prebiotics and probiotics are taken together to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

The benefits of having a healthy gut microbiome

The gut microbiome is the ecological community of microorganisms that resides in our guts and encompasses countless species of bacteria, fungi, and archaea. The cells found inside the gut outnumber the collective cells of our human bodies by 10 to 1. There are trillions or even quadrillions of these microbial cells (the number varies based on your source), primarily bacteria, which can positively and negatively affect health. Research suggests that a healthy microbiome is associated with better digestion, nutrient processing, immune function, mood regulation and more.

How do you get enough of these in your diet? 


Prebiotics are nutritional building blocks for probiotics. You'll find prebiotic fibres in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Here are good sources of prebiotic-rich foods in your diet:

Fruits: apples, bananas, cranberries, oranges & tomatoes

Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, carrots and onions

Whole Grains: barley and wheat bran.

Prebiotics are found in both soluble and insoluble forms. Insoluble prebiotic fibres cannot be dissolved in water. This type of fibre is commonly found in foods such as whole fruits and vegetables that have not been processed or canned. Soluble prebiotic fibre can dissolve in water but doesn't dissolve easily in the gastrointestinal tract, so you need to eat a larger amount of food containing this type of fibre for it to work properly. Cereal products are the best sources of this form of prebiotic. 


Nearly every food contains good or bad probiotic bacteria (also called "friendly" or "good" bacteria). But commercially available yogurts are not necessarily a good source of probiotics because many contain low amounts of actual live cultures. Because these "live culture" products have proliferated on store shelves over the past decade, it may be hard to tell whether what you're getting is actually beneficial for you—or even if it's yogurt at all!

The most common probiotic foods you can find at grocery stores include yogurt (preferably without sugar added), kefir (a slightly thicker yogurt drink), as well as live-cultured sauerkraut and pickles; but there are many other types of fermented foods that contain high levels of probiotics including miso paste, tempeh (fermented soy), kimchi (fermented cabbage), and many others!

Common misconceptions about prebiotic foods and probiotic supplements

Misconception #1:

A person who is considered healthy does not need to take probiotics.

One common misconception is that a healthy human being doesn't need to take probiotics.

You might be thinking, "I'm perfectly fine without probiotics! My stomach feels good all the time, and I have no illnesses." This is almost similar to the myth that a healthy human being doesn't need to take probiotics until vitality and energy are diminished. But even if you have been eating reasonably well, maintain an appropriate weight for your height and age, and exercising regularly, you may not be getting adequate probiotics in the gut.

In a healthy gut microbiome, there are about 100 trillion microorganisms. The human body houses ten times more microbial cells than its own cells, and their genetic code is at least 150 times larger than ours. In fact, 90% of the DNA in our body (the entire body) comes from microscopic organisms; and only 10% comes from our own human genes!

The health of your gut depends on the balance between good and harmful microorganisms. A well-balanced gut environment is created when you eat foods that feed or support the growth of good bacteria while inhibiting bad ones. Unfortunately, many people today lack adequate probiotics in their diets because of what they're eating; take some time to read these nutritional labels.

Misconception #2:

If I take probiotics for a long time (i.e. one month), my body will get used to them.

Some people worry that if they take probiotics for too long, their digestive tract will start to depend on them and then stop working when the probiotics are suddenly taken away. That is not true. In fact, probiotics can remain active in your system for up to 6 months and may even expand the number of good bacteria in your body.

Misconception #3:

Prebiotics are enough to maintain a healthy gut.

Prebiotics is good, but without probiotics, prebiotics by themselves do not provide the same benefits. Prebiotics are food for a subset of healthy bacteria in your gut, and that is why you need to consume probiotics along with prebiotics.

In addition to making your GI tract happier, probiotics play an essential role in supporting optimal overall health by strengthening the barrier function of the gut lining, modulating inflammation, supporting the immune system and counteracting bad bacteria.

Probiotics also help by improving your absorption of certain nutrients like calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.

Misconception #4:

All Good Probiotics Need to be Refrigerated

You probably noticed that most probiotics in the market are kept in a refrigerator. But, it's not as simple as picking up fresh vegetables or dairy at the grocery store. Probiotics live on foods and require certain conditions to stay alive. Simply putting probiotics in a capsule doesn't maintain their vitality for very long.

Misconception #5:

Probiotic Supplements Are Just for Sick People

There's this misconception that probiotics aren't necessary unless the person is sick. On the contrary, some of the benefits of taking supplemental probiotics include immune support and helping to prevent future illnesses or infections. And those who experience severe GI distress on occasion can benefit, too—especially if it's a recurring condition.

Probiotic supplementation has even shown promise for supporting immunity during times of stress like physical or mental illness, injury and rigorous training for sports.

Misconception #6:

All probiotics are the same and are created equal.

You may have been told by your doctor to get a probiotic for digestive issues. When you're standing in front of the probiotic supplements aisle at the grocery store or pharmacy, it can be challenging to know which one is best for your health. 

Know this before you go buy probiotics. Each probiotic strain has a different function that it carries out in the body. Numerous studies have indicated that multi-strain probiotic products are more effective than a single strain product.

One of the critical points about a probiotic supplement is that its bacterial strains need to be combined in a way backed by science. The effects of multiple strains need to be tested as a whole for efficacy before you can say it’s an effective product--therefore, there are many factors involved in determining whether or not a product will work effectively.

For optimal results, search for a high-quality probiotic that contains multiple strains of bacteria, and is tailored to your specific health needs.

Total Gut Solution (Probiotic)

Scientifically formulated to help keep your gut healthy and regulate weight, Applied Science Nutrition's Total Gut Solution is made for those who struggle with digesting their food properly.

By balancing out the bad bacteria in our stomach, this probiotic supplement can restore a natural balance to your digestive system so you can enjoy proper bowel movement, more energy throughout the day, and of course--weight loss!

Frequently Asked Questions on prebiotics and probiotics:

Here are Frequently Asked Questions on prebiotics and probiotics:

If I don't like eating a lot of vegetables, how can I get more prebiotic fibres into my diet without changing my entire lifestyle?

You could start adding in fruits to your meal that are high in fibre. If you usually consume canned foods or processed foods, you can also mix them up with a little bit of fresh produce as a garnish to give it some taste.

What if I'm lactose intolerant or vegan - what should I eat instead of dairy products for my probiotics?

Some examples of foods that are high in probiotic content that are not dairy products are sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. If you're lactose intolerant or vegan, soy milk is an alternative to dairy-based options.

What should I do if I'm experiencing bloating after taking my prebiotics or probiotics?

You may be consuming too much at once for your body to handle; try taking smaller doses more often instead of one large dose. What symptoms were you having? Bloating doesn't necessarily mean that the product isn't working for you. It just means that your body hasn't adjusted itself yet to the prebiotics and/or probiotics!

Does it matter what time of day I take my probiotic supplements?

Ideally, it would be best to take them when you wake up in the morning; this way, they're still fresh and will have the most amount of probiotic count.

What's better: buying liquid or pill form supplements?

It doesn't matter much – whichever is more convenient for your lifestyle! The actual beneficial bacteria are the same.

Can I take probiotic supplements with antibiotics?

Yes, absolutely! Probiotics can help restore your gut flora better than just taking an antibiotic by itself. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement, though! Will probiotic supplements make me healthier in general, even if I don't have issues with my digestive system? This is a loaded question that we will explore more in-depth later on! The short answer: yes, probiotics can boost your immune system and may also improve other aspects of your health.


Prebiotics are food for the probiotic bacteria residing in our guts as live cultures, which help us with things like digestion and nutrient absorption. Prebiotics also encourage the growth of healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus to produce acids that can block harmful pathogens, which make it harder for them to survive and thrive within our gut so that those good bacteria flourish instead.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the difference between prebiotics and probiotics.