What’s The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?


Today we are talking about bacteria. In particular, we are talking about the difference between probiotics and prebiotics. When we think of bacteria, we often think about germs, disease and sickness, but not all bacteria are bad for us. Our bodies are the natural home to trillions of microorganisms that are essential to our health and wellbeing.

Today we are diving into the topic of probiotics v.s prebiotics and busting the confusion over what is what and why bacteria can also be good for us.

prebiotic oats - The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

What Are Prebiotics?

While prebiotics and probiotics sound similar, they are in fact very different and have very different roles in the gut.
While probiotics are the beneficial microorganisms themselves, prebiotics are a source of food for probiotics and help them grow, multiply and survive in the gut.

Think of your population of microorganisms living in your gut as a pet. Pets need food and water to thrive, and the same goes for your microbiome. The food needed to feed your microbiome is referred to as prebiotics.
Generally, prebiotic foods are plant-based foods such as:

  • garlic| onions| bananas| apple skin| beans| Jerusalem artichokes| oats| chicory and many others.  They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre.

More specifically, prebiotic fibres are a non-digestible part of foods that goes through the small intestine undigested. That’s because they cannot be absorbed or broken down by the body.
It ferments when it reaches the large colon and this fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies (including probiotic bacteria). It helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our digestive system. These are the ones that are associated with better health and reduced disease risk.

Just as with probiotics, as we will discuss later, research shows that there are also different types of prebiotics. With prebiotics, the main differentiating factor is the length of the chemical chain – short chain, medium chain or long chain. This determines where in the digestive tract the prebiotic has its effect, as well as how the benefits may affect the host.

Unlike most probiotics which are affected by heat, cold, time and stomach acid, prebiotics are not as fragile. Common prebiotics include:

  • inulin
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
  • galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
  • lactulose
  • lafinose

What Do Prebiotic Fibres Benefit?

Increasing your prebiotic fibre intake is linked to supported:

  • immunity
  • digestive health
  • regularity
  • weight management
  • bone density
  • brain health
prebiotic Brussels Sprouts The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

How Can I Increase My Prebiotic Intake?

With Food

By boosting your total daily fibre consumption, you will also boost the levels of prebiotic fibre you ingest. Many high fibre foods are high in prebiotic fibre so start consuming foods such as:

  • garlic| onions| bananas| oatmeal| wholemeal bread| asparagus| chicory| dandelion greens| Jerusalem artichoke | Brussels Sprouts | cabbage | fruit/veggie skins like an apple.

These will help increase your intake and feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut for improved health and wellbeing.

With Supplementation

Of course, we also sell excellent prebiotic supplements and combination probiotic and prebiotic supplements (aka symbiotic). These help to ensure sufficient levels of food to boost your levels of friendly bacteria.

Some people find they have to eat large quantities of prebiotic foods to increase the levels of friendly bacteria in their intestines. For this reason, some people find it easier to supplement. At least at the beginning.

Within the OptiBac Probiotics range, the prebiotic FOS can be found in:

Optibac probiotic The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

What Are Probiotics?

The word “probiotic”, also known as good bacteria, describes the beneficial microorganisms that reside in our digestive tract. Our digestive tract is home to trillions of microorganisms, some of which are beneficial, others that are harmful, and some that are neutral.

Probiotics are defined as microorganisms that are beneficial for the human host. These can be both live bacteria and also yeast.

What Do Probiotics Do?

Each of these beneficial microorganisms takes on a number of tasks within the body, with the main one being to crowd out harmful bacteria in order to keep the gut healthy. 

Another is to repopulate the gut, say after taking antibiotics. We need to make sure we have more good bacteria than bad bacteria so as to keep a healthy digestive system and prevent illness.

Probiotics support digestive health by:

  • rebalancing the guts levels of beneficial bacteria
  • producing specific enzymes needed in the digestion of food
  • aiding the break-down of foods substances

Probiotics also help to improve the absorption of vitamins and minerals into the bloodstream. Furthermore, they even produce B complex vitamins & vitamin K themselves!

Interestingly, probiotics are also linked to an improved and supported immune system. One way they do this is by lining the intestines with a protective layer of friendly bacteria that works to keep pathogenic substances in the gut from harming the body. The other is by stimulating the body’s natural defences.

With around 70% of the immune system found in the gut, it’s important to make gut health priority to benefit your overall wellbeing. And one way to do that is to ensure you’re consuming plenty of probiotics.

imbalanced gut - The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

Signs of Imbalance in the Gut

All matter of things causes an imbalance in the good bacteria levels in the gut. We know that travel, stress, antibiotics, a parasite or virus, a change of diet, a diet high in sugar or low in fibre, or too much-processed food are big culprits.
These imbalances in the levels of good bacteria in the gut can compromise our health, resulting in:

  • poor digestion
  • gas or bloating (particularly if it’s occurring regularly and/or is painful)
  • indigestion
  • heartburn
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • thrush and/or Candida Overgrowth
  • lowered immunity
  • low Energy Levels
  • food intolerances or allergies
  • acne
  • eczema

Extensive research and trials show that probiotic supplementation is an effective way of supporting a healthy gut.

fermented foods

How Can I Increase My Intake of Probiotics?

With Food

Find probiotics in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, water and milk kefir, kombucha, yoghurt, miso and many others. These contain an abundance of live beneficial bacteria that are naturally created by the process of fermentation in foods.

With Supplements

Probiotics are also available in supplement form and are an excellent way to ensure you’re getting a specific strain/strains and strength of bacteria or yeast.
Some of our favourite brands include OptibacUdo’s ChoiceLiving Nutrition and many more!

What is the Best Probiotic to Take?

While more research is needed to fully understand the extensive benefits of different probiotic strains, we do know that not all probiotics are created equally. The Lactobacilli, for example, live in our digestive, urinary and genital systems and are found in some fermented foods like yoghurt.

Bifidobacteria tend to live in the intestines as lactic acid bacteria and are also found naturally in fermented foods. Bifidobacterium help to ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation, help to support the immune system, and fight harmful bacteria in the intestines.

For certain conditions, you want to ensure you are taking the strain that is most likely to benefit you. Choosing the right one should depend on the specific health condition/s you’re experiencing. That’s because different types of probiotics show to help with different health conditions.
And since everyone is unique in their make-up, everyone will require something different.

Speak to any of our lovely staff on the shop floor if you’re looking for something specific, or check out Optibac Probiotics webpage for in-depth details about each strain, and which one you should go for.

And that’s it for What’s The Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Emily Nöth

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*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention.

Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication.

*** Please be aware that adding prebiotics into your diet may cause minor digestive disturbances/flatulence in the first few days of taking them. Don’t be alarmed! After a few days of continued use, the intestines will have adapted to the prebiotics & the discomfort should disappear.