Prebiotic vs Probiotic

By Karina Jimenea on Jul 04, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible fibers in foods. They feed beneficial gut bacteria, helping them thrive and multiply. By facilitating the growth of these good bacteria, prebiotics support overall gut health, improve digestion, and improve the immune system.

They create a balanced environment in the digestive tract, which can help prevent issues like constipation and inflammation. Adding prebiotic-rich foods to one’s diet is an excellent way to boost gut health and maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. When prebiotics are broken down into short-chain fatty acids by gut bacteria, they support functions like blood sugar control and calcium absorption.

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What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms, often called “good” bacteria. They offer multiple health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. Probiotics can also be taken as probiotic supplements, which provide similar benefits to those found in probiotic foods.

Found in fermented foods, these live bacteria help balance the gut’s natural bacteria. They support the digestive system, enhance nutrient absorption, and boost the immune system. Including probiotic foods in a diet can improve digestive health by preventing issues like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

Differences between probiotics and prebiotics

Including prebiotic and probiotic foods is part of complementary and integrative health approaches to support overall well-being. Here are some differences between the two in terms of sources, function, and use in healthcare:


Probiotics are mainly found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, which contain live cultures of beneficial bacteria. These foods are commonly included in diets to enhance gut health directly. On the other hand, prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods like bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and whole grains, which nourish and support the growth of good gut bacteria.


Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut, which helps maintain a healthy balance of the microbiome. These good bacteria aid in digestion and boost the immune system. In contrast, prebiotics provide the necessary food for these beneficial bacteria to grow and thrive, ensuring their survival and activity in the gut. This symbiotic connection between probiotics and prebiotics improves overall gut health and can prevent digestive issues.

Use in healthcare

Probiotics can help manage conditions like inflammatory bowel disease by restoring the balance of good bacteria in the gut (Maftei et al., 2024). Prebiotics maintain overall gut health and prevent digestive disorders, making them crucial to healthcare providers' dietary recommendations.

In mental health care, both probiotics and prebiotics positively affect mental well-being. A significant relationship exists between gut microbiota composition and the symptoms of depression and anxiety, with treatment using probiotics or prebiotics showing improvement in these conditions. Studies highlight how altering gut microbiota can decrease the severity of these mental disorders (Bistas & Tabet, 2023).

What's the importance of learning the difference?

Understanding the distinction between probiotics and prebiotics is necessary for healthcare providers like you when recommending dietary supplements or specific dietary changes for patients. Both elements are necessary to maintain a balanced gut microbiome, which can significantly impact a patient's health.

Incorporating foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics can be a natural and effective way to support gut health. While probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut, prebiotics nourish these bacteria, helping them flourish.

When advising patients, healthcare professionals should emphasize the need for a balanced diet that includes probiotics and prebiotics. This can result in a more effective management of gastrointestinal issues and contribute to overall well-being.

Key takeaways

Here are some essential points for you to remember about prebiotics and probiotics:

  • Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that, when consumed, help maintain or restore healthy gut flora.
  • Prebiotics are indigestible substances that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
  • Examples of plant-based prebiotics include certain foods like garlic, onions, apples, and bananas.
  • Recommending probiotic-rich foods to patients can be an effective way to promote overall gut health and prevent gastrointestinal problems in patients.

It is important to include both prebiotics and probiotics in a patient's diet, but it should be tailored to their health status, needs, and preferences.

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Bistas, K. G., & Tabet, J. P. (2023). The benefits of prebiotics and probiotics on mental health. Cureus, 15(8), e43217.

Maftei, N.-M., Raileanu, C. R., Balta, A. A., Ambrose, L., Boev, M., Marin, D. B., & Lisa, E. L. (2024). The potential impact of probiotics on human health: An update on their health-promoting properties. Microorganisms, 12(2), 234.

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