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Prebiotic vs Probiotic: What’s the Difference?

Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
17th September 2021

In 30 seconds…

Probiotics and prebiotics are essential to a healthy gut, and a healthy gut can improve your mental health, and your immune system. Probiotics are strains of living bacteria, whilst prebiotics are fibres which your gut’s bacteria feed on. You can find both in the food you eat.

Taking Care of Your Gut

Essential for energy production, your immune system, and your sleep and mood, your gut and digestive system play a truly crucial role. And, unfortunately, it can’t always look after itself.

That’s why, here, we’re talking about two of the most popular tools to keep our gut health at its best: prebiotics and probiotics. What do they do, and why do we need them? Let’s find out.

Introducing the Gut Microbiome

Your gut is teeming with bacteria – billions of them. Your digestive tract is thought to contain over 100,000 billion microorganisms, or microbiota, as they’re known. These are made up of about 500 different species, all playing a crucial role in maintaining the health and function of your gut.

Now, it’s vital that we move away from the idea that ‘bacteria’ equals ‘bad’. In fact, the gut microbiome – the name we give to the whole collection of live bacteria in your gut – helps you fight disease. Plus, it may improve symptoms of depression, and it may help you tackle obesity. Of course, that’s if everything is working as it should.

Usually, the microbiome brings important health benefits. However, sometimes it can become unbalanced. This can happen due to your diet and other lifestyle choices or because of illness or medication (like antibiotics). At these moments, you may experience the symptoms of poor gut health – including bloating, heartburn, discomfort, or changes to your skin, sleep, and mood.

But this isn’t something you just have to accept. Instead, you can support your gut’s return to health by helping to restore balance to your gut microbiota. That’s where prebiotics and probiotics come in.

Prebiotic vs Probiotic: The Key Difference

You may have heard the terms prebiotic and probiotic supplements knocking around. These are important tools that can help regulate the balance of your gut microbiome – helping you avoid the symptoms of poor gut health.

But what is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

  • Probiotics. These are supplements or foods containing live strains of bacteria. Often, they’ll contain billions of ‘good’ bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus.
  • Prebiotics. These are a type of plant fibre that feed the good bacteria in your gut. You can’t digest them yourself, but the bacteria can. Think of it as fuel for your bacteria — and extra support for probiotics.

While probiotics give you a dose of beneficial bacteria themselves, prebiotics support the bacteria already present in your gastrointestinal system. In this way, prebiotic vs probiotic is a false choice. Both help your gut microbiome, and both are crucial for your overall digestive health.

Probiotic and Prebiotic Food Sources

So, how do you ensure you’re getting enough of both prebiotics and probiotics? Start with your food.

What Foods Contain Probiotics?

The best probiotic food sources are those foods that are high in naturally occurring bacteria. Fermented foods are your best bet, including the following.

  • Yoghurt
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Tempeh
  • Kombucha
  • Some pickled vegetables

Alongside contributing to your gut flora, fermented foods have been found to have antioxidant, anti-allergenic, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Where to Get Prebiotics?

Unlike probiotics, which are almost exclusively found in fermented foods, prebiotics can be sourced from a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, and legumes. In this way, the key to a healthy gut starts with a broad, balanced diet that’s rich in plant-based foods.

Some of the best places to find prebiotics include:

  • Garlic, onions, and leeks
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Barley and oats
  • Roots, including chicory, jicama, yacon, and burdock
  • Legumes – including lentils, beans, and pulses – are very high in fibre too.

Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplements?

You can get both prebiotics and probiotics in the form of dietary supplements, which can deliver much of the good bacteria you need in the form of a single pill.

Of course, these are supplements and should be used to supplement a balanced diet. They won’t change your health from one day to the next. But they can help support gut health, particularly in those recovering from antibiotic use or those with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

When buying prebiotic and probiotic supplements, be aware of which products you buy. Many probiotic supplements are pretty ineffective, as they may not include enough good bacteria to make a difference – or they disintegrate before reaching your gut.

Manual’s Gut Care supplements are designed to avoid this by reinforcing the probiotic capsule to deliver the bacteria strains straight to the intestine.

Key Signs You Should Address Your Gut Health

Many men take their gut health for granted. Don’t be one of them. If you regularly feel discomfort or experience any of the following symptoms, it might be time that you took care of your digestive health:

  • Bloating can be a sign of overactive bad bacteria.
  • Changes to your poo. If you experience diarrhoea or constipation, it could be a sign of an imbalance in your microbiome.
  • Heartburn or acid reflux.
  • You‘ve been on antibiotics. One of the best times to take probiotics is when you have been on medication for an infection. These can affect your gut health, causing diarrhoea, for example. Probiotics have been found to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
  • Changes to your skin. Sometimes, skin blemishes can be the result of poor digestive health. If you have eczema, psoriasis, or itchy or dry skin, probiotics may help.
  • Low energy or mood. Bad digestive health can impact your sleep and energy levels, which, in turn, affect your feelings of wellness.

Probiotics and prebiotics are an easy way to return your gut health to how it should be. There’s no reason why you should suffer or feel discomfort. 

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Key Takeaways

Prebiotic vs probiotic? It’s a false choice. While probiotic supplements and foods add live bacteria to your microbiome, prebiotics delivers the support and sustenance those microbes need. To achieve a healthy gut, you need both.

That’s easy enough. A balanced diet, including plenty of fruit and veg and fermented foods like yoghurts, can help. Meanwhile, prebiotic and probiotic supplements – like Manual’s Gut Care – deliver good bacteria to exactly where you need it.

FAQs

Why should I take care of my gut?

Your gut does a lot of work, producing energy for your body, maintaining a healthy immune system, and improving both your sleep and mood. It’s also easy to look after your gut, and the benefits are endless!

What is a microbiome?

You may have heard of us referring to your gut as a microbiome; a microbiome is simply a term referring to the microorganisms living in a specific environment (in this case, your gut!) Your gut is full of millions of good and bad bacteria, and it’s your job to make sure those bacteria live in harmony.

Isn’t bacteria bad for you?

No! We need to move away from the idea that all bacteria is bad. Whilst there are some ‘bad’ bacteria which can negatively affect your health, there are millions of ‘good’ bacteria which are essential to the health of your mind and body.

How do I know if I have an unhealthy gut?

Key signs that you have an unhealthy gut and should try to improve your gut’s health include: bloating, noticeable changes to your poo, heartburn or acid reflux, changes to your skin, low energy or mood, or if you’ve recently taken a course of antibiotics.

References

  1. P Lepage (2017). [The human gut microbiota: Interactions with the host and dysfunctions] – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28506730/

  2. Eamonn M. M. Quigley (2013). Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/

  3. Nevin ŞanlierBüşra Başar GökcenAybüke Ceyhun Sezgin (2017). Health benefits of fermented foods – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28945458/

  4. B. M. Corcoran, C. Stanton, G. F. Fitzgerald, and R. P. Ross (2005). Survival of Probiotic Lactobacilli in Acidic Environments Is Enhanced in the Presence of Metabolizable Sugars – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1151822/

  5. M Rahmati RoudsariR KarimiS SohrabvandiA M Mortazavian (2015). Health effects of probiotics on the skin – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24364369/

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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