Probiotics vs prebiotics: what's the difference?
Probiotics? Prebiotics? Postbiotics? Confused about what you should be taking to support gut health? Find out here.
As our interest in gut health grows, so too does the scientific jargon. As a gut health dietitian, one of the most common questions I get asked is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, and which (if any) you should take.
So let's demystify the science. In this post I cover:
💊 What are probiotics?
🧄 What are prebiotics?
🦠 What are postbiotics?
✅ What should I be taking?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live beneficial microbes (typically bacteria or yeast) that are suggested to benefit health when consumed in sufficient amounts.
You might have heard people say that probiotic supplements help "balance the good and bad gut bugs". But there isn't a whole lot of evidence to show that probiotics have benefits for general gut health. This is because
🦠 The pH of the stomach is very low (acidic) which kills the probiotics before they can even reach the large intestine.
⏳ Even for high-dose probiotics - where a proportion may reach the large intestine - their effects don't last that long.
🧘♀️ Probiotics are like medication - they only work if you're taking the right strain. Randomly choosing a generic probiotic supplement is unlikely to resolve your health concern.
💊 Even where there's the strongest science (antibiotic-associated diarrhoea), taking a high-strength probiotic may not necessarily work for you. There's no one-size-fits-all!
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are specific types of dietary fibre that pass through to the large intestine where they are fermented (broken down) by our gut bacteria. In fact, prebiotic fibre is the gut bacteria's favourite food. When they digest and ferment prebiotic fibres, they produce anti-inflammatory substances called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Prebiotics are linked to:
🩸 Improving blood sugar control
🍕 Regulating appetite and food cravings
🤧 Supporting our immune system
💊 Reducing the need for antibiotics, particularly in children and elderly
🔥 Reducing systemic (whole-body) inflammation
🧠 Promoting mental wellbeing
🦴 Supporting bone health and skin health
Prebiotics are found in foods like leeks, onions, garlic, chicory root, and artichokes. Unfortunately these foods contain only very small amounts - chicory root has the highest percentage of prebiotic fibre at about 2 grams per serving.
What are postbiotics?
You can think of your gut microbiome like a factory, where each microbe has a different role. Some microbes are responsible for breaking down different foods and producing beneficial substances. These substances then enter the bloodstream where they have beneficial effects throughout the body. We call these substances postbiotics. In fact, we've already talked about one really important postbiotic called SCFAs, which are produced when our gut microbes breakdown prebiotic fibre.
What should I be taking?
As always, there's no one-size-fits-all! But here are my general recommendations:
✅ Only take a probiotic supplement for very specific conditions - like antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. For this, I recommend taking Saccharomyces boulardii.
✅ Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods like kefir, artisanal cheeses, sauerkraut, and kombucha. If you enjoy the taste, start by adding small amounts to your diet each day.
✅ To reap the benefits of prebiotics, aim for 30-35g total fibre daily. For many of us, this is difficult to achieve through diet alone. A prebiotic supplement (like myota) can be an easy way to get what you need.
✅ Boost your postbiotic production - myota's prebiotic fibres were developed with the primary goal of maximising SCFA production.
Want to supercharge your gut health?
myota has created a unique set of prebiotic fibre blends that have potent anti-inflammatory effects. In fact, recent research shows that different people produce different quantities of SCFAs from the same fibre.
These findings are at the core of our fibre blends. We've tested hundreds of different fibres in-house to find blends that all kinds of gut microbiomes can ferment. Reducing the risk of developing chronic disease and helping your gut for good. Learn more about myota's prebiotic fibre blends here.