Updated: Jul 21
Although it looks like it; Prebiotics and Probiotics aren’t just a misspelling of one another!
With data from the Health and food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) suggesting that only around 1 in 10 people in Britain take them; many people don’t yet know about probiotics and prebiotics.
The market for them both is gathering attention, mostly due to exposure on social media, and ever- emerging information about the gut microbiome.
With evidence suggesting positive influences of these supplements and benefits regarding brain, cardiovascular, cardiometabolic health and immune function (4); we find it hard not to get excited about them!
So, what is the difference between the two and should you be taking them?
First, we have to understand the basics of the gut microbiome...
Your gut microbiome is the term used to describe all of the organisms in your gut. It's a massive ecosystem made up of trillions of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses. These, together, weigh approximately 2kgs!
There are many factors which influence the blueprint of the microbiome, and not only our genetics.
Our microbiome at birth is unknowingly given as a gift from our mothers (influenced by mode delivery and type of feeding), which develops following exposures in childhood (toddlers put everything in their mouths!).
It doesn't end there as diet, stress, lifestyle, medication use and more also continue to influence our microbiome as we age (4).
However, some medical conditions, a poor diet, lifestyle factors and more can disrupt the gut bacteria and lead to gastrointestinal symptoms. These can include pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and more.
In this case, your dietitian or health care professional may recommend pre and/or probiotics to help.
Let's Cover Prebiotics....
Prebiotics could be interpreted as food for the gut microbiota; they “feed” on prebiotics by fermenting them. This process encourages the growth and balance of beneficial bacteria, positively affecting the overall health of our microbiome (1, 5)
Prebiotics are found in our food, such as fibre we obtain from fruits and vegetables.
Generally, certain foods containing soluble fibres are the only ones that are actually prebiotic.
Examples of foods containing prebiotics: (List not exhaustive...)
-bananas -onions -garlic -legumes -beans -peas -oats -Jerusalem artichokes -asparagus -dandelion greens -leeks -apple skins -chicory root (2)
Remember to build prebiotics gradually in the diet; too much at once (or one type of isolated fiber in high doses) may cause bloating, gas, diarrhoea and/or constipation. (3)
Now onto Probiotics!
Probiotics are the live bacteria in foods and supplements that are eaten and soon to be (hopefully!) living in our gut.
Fermented foods or those containing live and active cultures, such as yoghurt are natural food sources.
The seven core groups of microbial organisms most often used in probiotic products are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus s. (1).
These branch into species, subspecies and strains; there are thousands of different types altogether!
It's no surprise that scientists are still studying and classifying as you read this...
Examples of food containing probiotics: (List not exhaustive)
-miso soup -saurkraut -kimchi -kombucha -kefir (dairy and nondairy) (2)
Evidence for the use of probiotics and prebiotics is growing and supports a range of health conditions. We are focusing on gut health here.
Probiotics have a well-established evidence base in the prevention and management of gastrointestinal diseases such as traveller’s diarrhoea, antibiotic associated diarrhoea and Clostridium difficile diarrhoea.
One meta-analysis summed up the results of 63 studies done on a total of 8014 participants.
The overall result was that probiotics may offer a safe intervention in acute infectious
diarrhoea to reduce the duration and severity of the illness (6).
Other bowel conditions where they have a demonstrable clinical impact include ulcerative colitis (specifically in remission rather than maintenance), with less evidence of benefit in crohn’s disease. (8)
Probiotics have also been shown to help with symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, pouchitis (7) and constipation.
Although the longer term health effects of prebiotics are emerging and require further evidence; they have been shown to be beneficial for the health of the gastrointestinal tract by inhibiting pathogens and supporting immune function. (8)
So More Must be Better, Right?
Not necessarily! With both pre and probiotics, the key is variety. Diverse prebiotics can feed diverse populations of bacteria in the gut microbiome.
When looking for prebiotics, it is suggested to look for one with a blend instead of one that has only one
specific kind (3).
When looking for probiotics, a greater CFU number (colony forming units) doesn’t always mean it is more
beneficial. The type of bacteria and the variety is more important than having thousands of
CFU’s in one dose.
To summarise, pro and prebiotics are very different things, although both are very important to gut
health. Pre and probiotics require support from each other for optimal gut health.
Whether you should take supplements or not depends on your condition and health experts recommendations.
Oxford Gastro Dietitians would love to help you with selecting pre and probiotics.
Contact us for a list of probiotics we would recommend!
If you want to ask us any questions before booking your consultation, please book in for our
FREE discovery call which you can book via our website!
Gut love to you all
Cat & Rosie, Registered Dietitians
The information and advice offered by Oxford Gastro Dietitians is solely educational and provides general advice only for the adult population. Information offered on Oxford Gastro Dietitians website, blog and social media accounts is not a substitute for seeing a registered dietitian or another health care professional. All opinions are own views.
See more at the ‘Disclaimer’ section of our website.
(1) Othman, R. B., Amor, N. B., Mahjoub, F., Berriche, O., Ghali, C. E., Gamoudi, A., &
Jamoussi, H. (n.d.). Home - PMC - NCBI. National Center for Biotechnology
Information. Retrieved March 16, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/
(2) Intermountain Healthcare. (n.d.). What's the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
SCL Health. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from
(3) Dr. Finley, Healther.(Host). Landau, Kara (Guest). (2022, November 8). The Sneaky
Business of Prebiotics: What You Need To Know As A Consumer With Kata Landau.
(Episode 27) [Audio podcast episode]. Love Your Gut.
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Palacio S, Arboleya Montes S, Mancabelli L, Lugli GA, Rodriguez JM, Bode L, de Vos W,
Gueimonde M, Margolles A, van Sinderen D, Ventura M. The First Microbial Colonizers of
the Human Gut: Composition, Activities, and Health Implications of the Infant Gut
Microbiota. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2017 Nov 8;81(4):e00036-17. doi:
10.1128/MMBR.00036-17. PMID: 29118049; PMCID: PMC5706746
5) Wilson D. FODZYME®: Digestive enzymes to help with IBS. FODMAP Everyday.
Published March 7, 2023. Accessed April 15, 2023.
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infectious diarrhoea Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2: CD003048–CD003048. Accessed April
7) Gionchetti P, Rizzello F, Venturi A, et al. Oral bacteriotherapy as maintenance treatment
in patients with chronic pouchitis: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Gastroenterology
2000; 119: 305–9.
8) Jenkins G, Mason P (2022) The Role of Prebiotics and Probiotics in Human Health: A Systematic Review with a Focus on Gut and Immune Health. Food Nutr J 7: 245. DOI: 10.29011/2575-7091.100245