Published on :



Your gut health plays a crucial role in your overall well-being. Prebiotics and probiotics have garnered considerable recognition for their ability to promote gut health. However, there is another component to consider: synbiotics.

If you are a gut health enthusiast, you may have observed the emergence of synbiotics in the gut health section of your local pharmacy. 

In this article, we will explore what synbiotics are, how they function, the potential benefits they offer, and whether they outperform probiotics or prebiotics alone.

What Are Synbiotics?

“Synbiotics”, a term coined from the “syn”, meaning together and “biotic”, refers to a unique combination of prebiotics and probiotics. 

The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) defines synbiotics as: “a mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrates, selectively utilized by host microorganisms to confer a health benefit on the host.”

The concept underlying synbiotics is that the prebiotics help the probiotics survive in your intestines. While probiotics introduce additional beneficial bacteria into the gut microbiome, prebiotics provide the necessary nourishment for these advantageous bacteria to thrive and flourish.

How do synbiotics work?

The probiotic and prebiotic components of a synbiotic work together to positively affect the gut microbiome.

There are two different kinds of synbiotics. 

  1. Synergistic synbiotics 

They are formulated in such a manner that prebiotic substrate fuels the co-administered probiotics within the product, for the better survival and colonization of these probiotics in the GI tract.

In simple words, the prebiotic component of a synergistic synbiotic primarily supports the growth or activity of the co-ingested probiotics rather than other beneficial members of the gut microbiota already residing in the gut.

  1. Complementary synbiotics 

Unlike synergistic ones, complementary synbiotics are made by combining probiotics and prebiotics, with each component acting independently and with the combination shown to provide a clinical health benefit. 

Nearly all synbiotics used in published clinical trials or available commercially are of the complementary form.

Health Benefits of Synbiotics

💊 Inflammatory Bowel Disease Relief

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) is characterized by an inflammatory response within the gastrointestinal tract. 

A synbiotic mixture of prebiotics (FOS/inulin) and probiotic Bifidobacterium longum has been found to improve active ulcerative colitis, as indicated by sigmoidoscopy scores and inflammatory markers. A meta-analysis published in 2022 also revealed that synbiotics can significantly reduce inflammatory markers in ulcerative colitis.

💊 Reducing Lactose Intolerance

People with lactose intolerance cannot properly digest a sugar found in milk called lactose. This causes them to experience symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain, and gas after consuming dairy products.

Synbiotics containing L. acidophilus may potentially help alleviate lactose intolerance symptoms by improving digestion and lactase enzyme activity.

💊 Enhancing Immune Function

With 70% of the immune system residing in your gut, there is no wonder why a robust immune system relies heavily on a healthy gut microbiome.

In pre-clinical trials, synbiotics have been shown to enhance the immune function of rats by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome. However, we still need more clinical trials in this area.

💊 Lowering Blood Cholesterol Levels 

The use of synbiotics has shown a decrease in LDL or bad cholesterol and an elevation in HDL or good cholesterol levels.

Synbiotic supplementation for 12 weeks among diabetic patients with coronary heart disease demonstrated beneficial effects on markers of insulin metabolism and HDL-cholesterol levels.

Are Synbiotics Better Than Probiotics Or Prebiotics Alone?

✔️Advantages of synbiotics 

As a combination of prebiotics and probiotics, synbiotics were found to have a positive impact on the survival of ingested microorganisms during their passage through the GI tract. The combination also led to a more efficient colonization in the colon. 

Another advantage is that the prebiotic fibers nourish the probiotic bacteria in your gut microbiome. When you are taking probiotics but your diet lacks dietary fibers, it will keep the probiotics stranded in your gut without any food. 

Seemingly better, right? but don’t conclude yet since it is not always the case. 

✔️Limitation of research in synbiotics 

The health benefits of probiotics and prebiotics have been extensively supported by research. Unfortunately, the same level of evidence cannot currently be attributed to synbiotics, due to the scarcity of robust clinical studies on synbiotics.

While the synbiotic field is a huge and very promising commercial area, it lags behind pre- and probiotics in terms of clinical evidence.

✔️Not everyone tolerates prebiotics well.

Prebiotics may not be suitable for everyone and can potentially exacerbate symptoms in those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is because the rapid fermentation process can lead to adverse effects such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation, particularly in sensitive individuals.

On the other hand, a probiotic supplement used independently can offer significant advantages to IBS sufferers. It can help introduce more beneficial strains of bacteria into the GI tract, thereby enhancing the balance of the microbiome and potentially alleviating IBS symptoms.

At the end of the day, the one most suited to your individual needs will be the best for you.

Are Synbiotics Safe To Take?

Since prebiotics and probiotics tested to date have a good safety profile, synbiotics formulated with them can generally be presumed safe.

However, since the prebiotics are rapidly fermented in the gut by gut bacteria, they can cause digestive discomfort when consumed in high doses. 

To help improve tolerance of synbiotics, it’s best to start with a low dose of synbiotics and increase gradually to assess tolerance. As always, make sure to talk with your doctor before adding any supplement to your routine.

How to Get Synbiotics Through Your Diet

If you want to try a synbiotic, it is not always necessary to choose supplements. Synbiotics can be created by combining prebiotic-rich foods with probiotic foods

Plant-based foods, whole grains, and legumes are the best natural sources of prebiotics. And you can find probiotics in fermented products like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, cottage cheese, and sourdough bread.

You have numerous options for crafting your synbiotics by pairing these nutritious ingredients. For example, you can have sourdough bread dipped in sour cream dip with onions and garlic or enjoy yogurt with some fresh fruits.

The Bottom Line

The pre-and probiotic components of a synbiotic work synergistically or complementarily to positively impact the gut microbiome and offer potential benefits such as relieving inflammatory bowel disease, reducing lactose intolerance, enhancing immunity, and lowering blood cholesterol levels. However, it is important to note that the research on synbiotics is still limited compared to probiotics and prebiotics alone. More clinical trials are needed to fully understand the efficacy and potential benefits of synbiotics.

Photo of author
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.

Leave a Comment