Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

While PREBIOTICS and PROBIOTICS sound similar, these supplements are very different and have different roles in the digestive system (or gut).

  • PREBIOTIC FIBER is a non-digestible part of foods like bananas, onions and garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, the skin of apples, chicory root, beans, and many others. Prebiotic fiber goes through the small intestine undigested and is fermented when it reaches the large colon.

This fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies (including probiotic bacteria) and helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our digestive systems (also called the gut) that are associated with better health and reduced disease risk.

  • PROBIOTICS are live beneficial bacteria that are naturally created by the process of fermentation in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchi, and others.

Probiotics are also available in pill form and as an added ingredient in products like yogurt and health drinks.

Kefir, a milk drink that has been fermented using kefir grains, is an especially potent source of probiotics. According to Jeannette Hyde, a nutritional therapist, and high-profile advocate for kefir, “it contains lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in high doses, and also helps diversity too – more than 50 different types of bacteria can
be found in kefir. When you drink kefir (it has the consistency of a drinking yoghurt), these bacteria travel through the digestive tract to colonise the colon.”

While many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics, most come from two groups: [Laurence 2018]

  • Lactobacillus – the most common probiotic found in yogurt and other fermented foods. Can help with diarrhea and may help with people who can’t digest milk sugar (lactose).
  • Bifidobacterium – also found in some dairy products. May ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and related conditions. Naturally present in the large intestine, bifidobacteria fight harmful bacteria in the intestines, prevent constipation and give the immune system a boost. Furthermore, evidence indicates that bifidobacteria help reduce intestinal concentrations of certain carcinogenic enzymes.

A helpful metaphor to understand the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic may be a garden. You can add seeds—the probiotic bacteria—while the prebiotic fiber is the water and fertilizer that helps the seeds to grow and flourish. See below for a video description of the difference between probiotics and prebiotics presented by gastroenterologist, Dr. Frank W. Jackson.

Both probiotics and prebiotics have been added to some commercial infant formula and child food products to improve intestinal health.  [Thomas 2010]

Benefits of PROBIOTICS

The beneficial effects of probiotics have been widely demonstrated. [Toscana 2016]  Health professionals often recommend probiotics in supplement form to patients on antibiotics in an attempt to repopulate the colon with desirable bacteria after the course of antibiotics has wiped out both beneficial and undesirable bacteria. [Hyman 2016]

Some find taking probiotics can combat gastrointestinal side effects of the medication and reduce the bacterial growth leading to yeast infections.

Since each body is different, it is necessary to determine which probiotics will be helpful to one’s own system. [Laurence 2018] In addition, it is important to make sure the bacteria in probiotic supplements are alive. Probiotic bacteria are fragile and can easily be killed by stomach acid, time, and heat.

“The biggest influence you can have on the state of your gut lining, and a healthy microbiome, is your diet—which you control.”  — Jeannette Hyde, Nutritional Therapist BSc., a leading nutritional therapist, regular BBC commentator, and author of The Gut Makeover and The Gut Makeover Recipe Book.

Benefits of PREBIOTICS

Researchers have found that prebiotics are helpful in increasing the helpful bacteria already in the gut that reduce disease risk and improve general well being. [Florowska 2016] Prebiotic fiber is not as fragile as probiotic bacteria because it is not affected by heat, stomach acid, or time.  Nor does the fermentation process differ depending on the individual.

Scientific literature indicates that increasing prebiotic fiber intake supports immunity, digestive health, bone density, regularity, weight management, and brain health.

Which foods help me to boost PREBIOTICS and PROBIOTICS in my diet?

As discussed earlier, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt are rich sources of probiotic bacteria that go directly to populate the colon.  

By boosting your total daily fiber consumption, you will also boost the prebiotic fiber you ingest to feed probiotic and other desirable strains of bacteria in the gut for improved health and well being. [Pandey 2015]

Many high fiber foods are also high in prebiotic fiber. The following chart includes a sample of foods high in total fiber—and prebiotic fiber.

Foods Rich in Prebiotic Fiber:

Chicory Root
Source: dietaryfiber.org
About 65% of the chicory root is fiber by weight and is an extraordinarily rich source of prebiotic fiber.
Onions and Garlic

2 grams of fiber per ½ cup – about 17% is prebiotic fiber
Oatmeal
2 grams of fiber per ½ cup—very high in prebiotic fiber content.
Wheat Bread with Wheat Bran

About 1 gram of fiber per slice; nearly 70% of the total fiber in wheat bran is prebiotic fiber.
Asparagus

2-3 grams of prebiotic fiber per 100 gram serving (about ½ cup)
Dandelion Greens

4 grams of fiber per 100 gram serving (about ½ cup) – most of this fiber is prebiotic
Jerusalem artichoke
2 grams of fiber per 100 gram serving (about ½ cup) – 76% comes from inulin prebiotic fiber
Barley

3-8 grams of prebiotic fiber per 100 gram serving (about ½ cup)
Apple with skin

2 grams of fiber per ½ apple (mainly in the skin)  Pectin, which has prebiotic benefits, makes up about 50% of the total fiber in the apple.

Information from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods#section11
Images from http://www.freeimages.co.uk

Why take supplements when we can eat fiber-rich and fermented foods?

It is clearly vital to nourish a healthy bacterial mix in the colon. We can start with a foundation of healthy eating, focusing on fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, while avoiding processed food products and sugary foods and drinks.  

However, it is sometimes difficult with a typical modern diet that includes processed foods and high amounts of sugar and synthetic ingredients to eat enough fermented foods and foods high in fiber.  Therefore, adding supplements may be a healthy addition to one’s diet. [Verspreet 2016][Kechagia 2013]

Research has determined that the best of the prebiotic supplements include the two types of fiber derived from the chicory root, inulin and oligofructose (not a sugar), a subset of inulin. Prebiotin™ Prebiotic Fiber includes oligofructose-enriched inulin (OEI) naturally derived from the chicory root. It is a full-spectrum prebiotic fiber that nourishes bacteria on both sides of the colon and inhibits the growth of undesirable microbiota.

Suggested Fiber Amounts*

  • Dietary fiber: 25-38g
  • Prebiotic fiber: 5g-20g

* From the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotic

Average amounts of total dietary fiber actually consumed daily:  15-18 grams per day

(according to USDA statistics: https://www.ars.usda.gov/)

Comparing PROBIOTICS and PREBIOTICS

Supplementing with both probiotics and prebiotics can be helpful, but it is important to understand that probiotics, especially as supplements, are fragile. Probiotic bacteria in supplements are only effective if they are alive. They can be killed by heat, stomach acid, or simply die with time.

In addition, since hundreds of types of probiotics are available, it is hard to determine which strains are beneficial for our unique systems.

Prebiotin™ Prebiotic Fiber has the advantage of not being affected by heat, digestive juices, or time. Prebiotin nourishes the beneficial bacteria already in the gut and inhibits the growth of undesirable microbes.

This impact is universal and is not determined by the body’s unique requirements.  Prebiotin fiber (in white powder form) can easily be sprinkled on foods and dissolved in drinks.

The following chart compares prebiotics and probiotics.

PREBIOTIC VS PROBIOTIC

PREBIOTICS

PROBIOTICS

PREBIOTICS are a special form of dietary fiber that acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria in your gut. PROBIOTICS are live bacteria that can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods. There are hundreds of probiotic species available. Which of these species are best for the average healthy person is still unknown.
PREBIOTIC powders are not affected by heat, cold, acid, or time. PROBIOTIC bacteria must be kept alive to be active. They may be killed by heat, stomach acid, or simply die with time.
PREBIOTICS nourish the good bacteria that everyone already has in their gut. PROBIOTICS must compete with the over 1000 bacteria species already in the gut.
Research has determined that supplementing with an oligofructose enriched inulin-based (OEI) PREBIOTIC fiber can be helpful with a wide range of conditions and disorders, including digestive disorders, obesity, and bone loss. Certain PROBIOTIC species have been shown to be helpful for childhood diarrhea, irritable bowel disease, and for recurrence of certain bowel infections such as C. difficile.

Order Prebiotin™ Prebiotic Fiber here.

When is the best time to take Prebiotics and Probiotics?

The best time to take prebiotics and probiotics is regularly. Both can be taken at the same time, daily. We recommend taking them at the same time each day in order to establish a healthy routine. Your gut microbiome will be grateful!

First published on April 22, 2014 and edited with updated content and references on March 15, 2018.

References:

Florowska A, K Krygier, T Florowski, and E Dłużewska. 2016. “Prebiotics as functional food ingredients preventing diet-related diseases.” Food & function 7(5):2147-55.

Hyman, Mark MD. 2016. “Do Probiotics Really Work?” blog: http://drhyman.com/blog/2016/09/08/do-probiotics-really-work/

Kechagia, Maria Kechagia, Dimitrios Basoulis, Stavroula Konstantopoulou, Dimitra Dimitriadi, Konstantina Gyftopoulou, Nikoletta Skarmoutsou, and Eleni Maria Fakiri. 2013. “Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review.” ISRN Nutr. 481651. Published online 2013 Jan 2. doi:  10.5402/2013/481651

Laurence, Emily. 2018. “Which probiotic is right for you? These are the exact bacteria strains to look for.” Well + Good. February 13, 2018. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/probiotic-bacteria-strains/

Pandey, Kavita R, Suresh R. Naik, and Babu V. Vakil. 2015. “Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics- a review.” Journal of Food Science and Technology. Dec; 52(12): 7577–7587. Published online 2015 Jul 22. doi:  10.1007/s13197-015-1921-1 PMCID: PMC4648921

Thomas, DW, and F Greer. 2010. “Probiotics and prebiotics in pediatrics.” Pediatrics Dec 1;126(6):1217-31.

Toscano M, R De Grandi, L Pastorelli, M Vecchi, L Drago. 2017. “A consumer’s guide for probiotics: 10 golden rules for a correct use.” Digestive and Liver Disease 49 (November): 1177-1184. doi: 10.1016/j.dld.2017.07.011. Epub 2017 Aug 1.

Verspreet J, B Damen, WF Broekaert, K Verbeke, JA Delcour, CM Courtin. 2016. “A critical look at prebiotics within the dietary fiber concept.” Annual review of food science and technology Feb 28 (7):167-90.