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Home arrow Health arrow Gut Health arrow Prebiotic vs. Probiotic: Are They the Same?

Prebiotic vs. Probiotic: Are They the Same?

HR_author_photo_Edna
Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
Dr. Donika Vata
Fact checked by Donika Vata, MD
Last update: September 21, 2023
6 min read 1347 Views 0 Comments
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Prebiotics and probiotics are both important for gut health, but they are not the same thing

Prebiotic vs probiotic

Prebiotics and probiotics are big topics in the nutrition industry today. Many people take supplements to improve their health, but they often forget that these types of bacteria and fiber are different. 

Learning about the benefits of a prebiotic and probiotic can help you decide which is best for your goals. Each supplement plays a unique role in your gut, affecting bowel movement and immune function. 

Discover the health benefits, differences, and main purpose of a prebiotic and probiotic, including foods that contain fiber or healthy bacteria.

Prebiotic vs. Probiotic: Are They Different?

Yes, prebiotics and probiotics are completely different. They each play a unique role in your gut and digestive system. A probiotic supplement contains live bacteria, while prebiotics contain natural plant fibers.

Some people think that prebiotics and probiotics are the same thing, but they’re not. These supplements contain different substances and microorganisms. For example, you may take probiotics to reduce intestinal inflammation, while others prefer prebiotics because they treat constipation

In simpler terms, probiotics increase the good bacteria in your gut, and prebiotics support those bacteria to prevent an imbalance. 

You should choose a supplement that suits your goals. If you suffer from bloating, gas, and cramps, probiotics may be the right choice. Taking prebiotics can lower your blood sugar and insulin resistance. 

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that can fuel your gut. These microorganisms can keep your gut healthy by balancing the good and bad bacteria. A strong gut microbiome ensures your body has the energy to fight off infection and digest food properly. 

A probiotic supplement usually contains lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, or saccharomyces boulardii strains. These are active microorganisms that prevent illness by destroying disease-causing cells. 

You can find probiotic bacteria in dietary supplements or foods. Eating more nutrient-dense foods, like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, or kimchi, may support your digestive health and keep everything functioning properly in your gut. 

It’s also important to choose probiotics that have at least 1 billion colony-forming units, which is the number of bacteria in each supplement. 

Benefits of probiotics 

There are many benefits to feeding your gut flora and digestive tract. Learning more about how probiotics work for your health is very important. 

Consuming probiotic supplements can: 

  • Increase gut bacteria
  • Prevent and treat diarrhea 
  • Improve your mental health 
  • Strengthen the heart 
  • Reduce eczema symptoms 
  • Lessen the risk of digestive disorders
  • Boost your immune system 
  • Promote weight loss 

What Do Probiotics Do?

Probiotics feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. They can help contribute to a balanced gut microbiome, which is a community of thriving microorganisms that live in your intestines. 

Consuming probiotic dietary supplements can keep your body in a neutral state. These live bacteria reduce harmful toxins and increase the number of good bacteria that fight infection, digest food, reduce inflammation, and create vitamins. 

You need a balanced gut to avoid bloating, excess gas, and constipation. Not many people realize how poor gut health can influence other aspects of their body, such as immunity and concentration. 

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are natural plant fibers that encourage bacteria in your gut to grow. They improve your digestive system and maintain long-term gut health. These supplements are different from probiotics because they provide more fiber than active bacteria. 

Many prebiotic supplements use indigestible fibers, which your body can’t break down and use for energy. Instead, the bacteria in your gut feed on the fiber to thrive and stay balanced. Prebiotics also count as complex carbohydrates since they only benefit your intestines and stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria.

You should also know that fiber makes you poop, leading to fewer cases of constipation, diarrhea, cramps, and bloating. 

The main ingredients in a prebiotic include:

  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) 
  • Trans-galacto-oligosaccharides (TOS)

Benefits of prebiotics 

Prebiotics offer many health benefits that can transform your gut. 

Consuming a prebiotic supplement daily can:

  • Reduce the risk of colon cancer 
  • Increase nutrient absorption 
  • Fuel beneficial bacteria 
  • Regulate bowel movement 
  • Improve your metabolism 
  • Balance hormone levels 
  • Suppress your appetite 
  • Lower the risk of heart disease 

What Are Prebiotics Good for?

Prebiotics are good for maintaining good gut bacteria. They keep your digestive tract healthy to ensure no harmful toxins can disrupt digestion and natural gut functions. You can think of prebiotics as fertilizers that help gut bacteria to grow and flourish. 

Since prebiotics contain FOS, GOS, and TOS, they can ferment in your gut and produce short-chain fatty acids. In turn, these fatty acids can strengthen the cells that protect your intestinal barrier. People with leaky gut usually take prebiotics or probiotics because they can increase intestinal permeability. 

Acetate, butyrate, and propionate are common forms of fatty acids, which also promote a healthy gut. Butyrate can encourage regular bowel movements and improve the absorption of nutrients from fermented foods. 

Which Foods Are Prebiotic?

There are many nutrient-dense foods that count as prebiotics. You should try to consume more prebiotic foods to feed your gut microbiome and boost healthy digestion. 

Some food options include:

  • Chicory root 
  • Dandelion greens
  • Onion 
  • Garlic 
  • Asparagus
  • Banana 
  • Oats 
  • Apple 
  • Cocoa 
  • Burdock root 
  • Flaxseeds 
  • Seaweed 

Research suggests that garlic has anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering properties, which can heal your gut and manage diabetes

On the other hand, dandelion root can help prevent cancer because it reduces pathogens in your stomach. It is also packed with the prebiotic fiber inulin, so it’s important to incorporate these foods into your diet wherever possible. 

Which Foods Are Probiotic?

Probiotics are present in many fermented foods. You may find it challenging to eat them every day, but it’s essential to consume different strains of bacteria that can improve gut health. 

Below are some probiotic foods to try: 

  • Kefir 
  • Sauerkraut 
  • Kombucha 
  • Yogurt
  • Apple cider vinegar 
  • Tempeh 
  • Kimchi 
  • Pickles 
  • Cottage cheese
  • Gouda 
  • Sourdough bread 

Kombucha, being a fermented drink, can reduce bloating by balancing your gut and eliminating bacteria that create excess gas. It is also suitable for those with gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux. 

Yogurt is an easy food to consume, as you can add it to creamy sauces, smoothies, or fruit-based desserts. A study found that consuming plain yogurt can increase the presence of lactobacilli in your digestive tract. 

Can I Get Enough Probiotics and Prebiotics From Food Alone?

Yes, you can get enough probiotics and prebiotics from your diet. You should consume these foods daily to gain health benefits. However, taking supplements can be more convenient since you don’t have to worry about making meals or reaching the recommended intake. 

You should consume around 10–20 billion CFUs a day from probiotics. Foods like yogurt and pickles can contribute to this dosage, but it’s better to speak to a registered dietitian about how many probiotics to take per day

In terms of prebiotics, aim to get at least 3–5 grams from foods. This amount should be enough to reduce bad bacteria in your gut and protect your immune health. High-fiber foods include dandelion greens, seaweed, and kefir, so try to consume them throughout the day with balanced meals. 

FAQs

How long does it take for prebiotics to work?

You may notice a difference within 2–3 weeks of taking prebiotics. Your gut needs time to adjust to the natural fibers. Consistency and a balanced diet can speed up progress and give you a healthy gut.

Is it better to take prebiotics or probiotics?

Prebiotics seem to be more robust than probiotics, but they are both still effective at improving long-term gut health. You should take a supplement that suits your goals and maintains a healthy balance of good bacteria.

Should you take them both together?

There is nothing wrong with taking probiotics and prebiotics together. Combining the two can actually make probiotics more effective on an empty stomach. The prebiotic fibers help to strengthen good bacteria and improve your gastrointestinal tract.

A Word From an MD

Many people confuse probiotics and prebiotics since they sound similar. However, they both contain unique ingredients that encourage the right balance of bacteria. Learning about the differences is important for choosing a supplement or understanding how they work for your health.

There are also signs that these supplements are working. For example, you may notice frequent bowel movements, reduced bloating, better sleep, and improved focus. Just remember that it takes time for your body to adjust.

As well as taking supplements, you can follow gut health hacks such as drinking more water and exercising regularly.

Consult with a healthcare professional about finding the right supplement. They can provide high-quality options that treat specific digestive problems or ensure the good bacteria in your gut can function properly.

Conclusion

Probiotics and prebiotics are great for your gut health, but they are different. You should choose a supplement that suits your preferences and diet. For more guidance, speak to a registered dietitian to determine which supplement benefits your overall health with minimal side effects.

Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
Edna Skopljak, MD, is a medical advisor for the Health Reporter, a general practitioner who also worked as a medical doctor at the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology. In addition to clinical work, she has years of experience in medical research as an editor at a prestigious medical journal.
The article was fact checked by Donika Vata, MD
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HR_author_photo_Edna
Written by Edna Skopljak, MD
Dr. Donika Vata
Fact checked by Donika Vata, MD
Last update: September 21, 2023
6 min read 1347 Views 0 Comments
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