Prebiotics And Probiotics What Is The Difference

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The benefits of gut microbiomes have become a popular topic of discussion, especially in recent years. Although medical research has shown benefits not only for the gut but also for general health.

My name is Dr. Tun Min and I have a special interest in the field of supplements and probiotics. In this article, we will look at the differences between probiotics, and prebiotics and their benefits based on recent medical research.

Scientific Definition


Probiotics are live microorganisms, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host


Prebiotics is a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms confers health benefits.

Essentially, Probiotics are living microorganisms in our body that help with the body functions and Prebiotics are food for Probiotics.

Types of Prebiotics and Probiotics


Three main types of prebiotics stimulate the group of different Probiotics 


Fructans is a soluble dietary fiber, resistant to human digestive enzymes but can be fermented by gut micro bacteria to produce Short Chain Fatty Acids ( SCFAs), which has immune system regulating property.

In addition to stimulating probiotics growth, fructans are also anti-oxidants, decrease blood glucose, and are found to reduce weight in animal models.

Galacto-oligosaccharides Starch 

They are also resistant to stomach acid and pass to the intestines to stimulate probiotics growth. A survey found that women with abnormal bowel movements had many skin problems. Studies have shown that it can improve atopic dermatitis, and reduce the skin loss of water. The same effect is also demonstrated in infants.

Glucose derived Oligosaccharides 

These can stimulate a broad range of micro bacteria, Lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, Enterobacteria, and Bacteroidetes.


Three main groups of probiotics


It is mainly found in the gut of infants and the uterine region of the pregnant mother. It has anti-infection activity, especially for harmful stomach bacteria such as H. Pylori, infection of the female genital tract.


Numerous studies have been carried out with Lactobacillus species while strong evidence for a certain condition is still lacking. The main reason could be the wide variety of different species around the world depending on the diet. 

However, more promising results are found in combination with other species.


S. Boulardii has protective effects on normal healthy gut flora, the beneficial effect of this particular yeast has been proven in acute and chronic gastrointestinal diseases.

More well-designed randomized controlled trials are needed for the pediatric population. In the adult population, main benefits are related to infection of the intestines such as Clostridium Difficle, Traveller diarrhea, antibiotics-induced diarrhea, and H Pylori infection.

Food Rich in Probiotics

Two main sources to introduce more probiotics into your system: Fermented foods and dietary supplements. Human consumption of fermented foods can be dated back centuries when a process called lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on sugar and starch producing lactic acid. Beer and wine are also fermented food but the process of making them kills or inactivates the probiotics.

Fermented foods are a natural source and are generally preferable to supplements.

Examples of probiotics rich food are

Yogurt  Buttermilk

Kimchi Cottage Cheese

Kefir Tempeh

Pickles Miso soup


Food rich in prebiotics

The traditional Western diet lacks a prebiotics component and does not favor the growth of probiotics. Prebiotics are mainly fiber-rich sources in probiotics that use certain enzymes to break down and then digest. Experts say, for a healthy environment in the gut, the diet should balance between probiotics and prebiotics.

Examples of prebiotics-rich foods are

Whole grains Garlic

Oats Onions

Banana Leeks

Berries Apples

Asparagus Cocoa ( chocolate)

Chicory root

How do prebiotics and probiotics help our body?

Probiotics mainly benefit our health by helping break down nutrition and absorption in the gut, thus improving overall gut health. It also regulates inflammatory reactions.

Most often, the symptoms that you need more probiotics can be subtle and not easily recognisable.

Probiotics are mainly used in antibiotic-associated diarrhea, Inflammatory bowel disease ( Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s disease), and Irritable bowel syndrome.

The use of probiotics in many other conditions is still being explored by medical scientists and researchers.

An optimistic outlook for use of probiotics in depression, immune boosters, allergies, and weight loss is being explored by medical professionals.


The main benefit is enhancing the diversity of the probiotics population in the gut which in turn provides health benefits.

It also gives a healthier gut membrane and a better gut environment for better absorption of nutrients and excretion of waste.

It is also thought to regulate fat metabolism, weight loss effect, effect on calcium absorption, and bone health.

Should I take Probiotics and Prebiotics supplements?

There are no actual clinical guidelines for the routine use of probiotics and prebiotics in healthy adults. Generally speaking, signs that you need probiotics are irregular bowel habits, and boating after eating.

The general advice is to get everything from food. However, for the best efficacy of prebiotics and probiotics, other factors such as insulin component, and availability of vitamins and minerals are also essential.

Consider taking supplements if you find it challenging to stick to the probiotics and prebiotics-rich food.

Side effects of prebiotics and probiotics

The most common side effects are bloating, gaseous abdomen, nausea, and loose stool.

Some people may experience headaches, and allergic reactions but are generally considered very safe.

Who should not take prebiotics and probiotics?

It is always advisable to discuss with your doctor before taking any supplements but caution should be taken for very young and very old people.

The supplements should not be taken without professional advice in people who have low immunity, taking medicine that affects the immune system, severe inflammation of the intestines, multiple health problems, and serious medical conditions.

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Dr Tun Min is s GP working in NHS UK and writing articles about supplements and vitamins based on personal clinical experience and clinical research.

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