What’s 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.

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.

Prebiotic fibres can be found in everyday foods such as garlic, onions, bananas, apple skin, beans, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory and many others. 

Prebiotic fibres are a non-digestible part of foods that goes through the small intestine undigested 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) and 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 has shown 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 and lafinose.

What Do Prebiotic Fibres Benefit?

Increasing your prebiotic fibre intake may support immunity, digestive health, regularity, weight management, bone density and brain health.

How Can I Increase My Prebiotic Intake?

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 and fruit/veggie skins like apple to help increase your intake and feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut for improved health and wellbeing.

Supplementation: Of course we also sell excellent prebiotic supplements and combination probiotic and prebiotic supplements (aka symbiotic) to ensure sufficient levels of food to boost the levels of friendly bacteria.

Some people may find they have to eat large quantities of prebiotic foods to increase the levels of friendly bacteria in their intestines. For this reason many people find it easier to supplement.

Within the OptiBac Probiotics range, the prebiotic FOS can be found in ‘For every day’‘One week flat’, ‘For babies & children‘ and ‘Bifidobacteria & fibre‘.

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; by producing specific enzymes needed in the digestion of food and in aiding the break-down of foods substances.

Probiotics have also been found to improve the absorption of vitamins and minerals into the bloodstream, and they’ve even been found toproduce B complex vitamins & vitamin K.

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.

Signs of Imbalance in the Gut

All matter of things can cause an imbalance in the good bacteria levels in the gut. This may be from travel, stress, antibiotics, a change of diet, a diet high in sugar or low in fibre, or too much processed food.
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 have shown that probiotic supplementation can be an effective way of supporting a healthy gut.

How Can I Increase My Intake of Probiotics?

Food: Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, water and milk kefir, kombucha, yoghurt, miso and many others, as these contain an abundance of live beneficial bacteria that are naturally created by the process of fermentation in foods. (see my previous blog on making your own sauerkraut here)

Supplement: Probiotics are also available in supplement form, and can be 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 can be 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, as different types of probiotics have been shown 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.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact us via our Facebook page or email!– Emily

Twitter – @nourishstores

*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.