The Truth About Probiotics and Prebiotics

Nov 3 / CATEGORY: Nutrition

Estimated time read: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

You’ve heard the buzz about probiotics – Do you know about probiotics’ close cousins: prebiotics and synbiotics? In this blog post, we will explore these three functional foods and supplements and how they can work to promote a balanced and thriving gut microbiome.


Probiotics – The Beneficial Bacteria 

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits to their host when consumed in adequate amounts. These beneficial bacteria can be found in supplemental form and various fermented foods.

Here are some examples of prebiotic foods: yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha. 

Probiotics work by replenishing and maintaining a balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They compete with harmful bacteria for resources and can inhibit the growth of pathogens. This competition and inhibition contribute to a healthier gut environment.


Health Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics have been associated with a range of health benefits, including improved digestion, a strengthened immune system, and potential mental health benefits (Ansari et al., 2020). They can also aid in managing certain conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea.

Recently, the media has promoted probiotics as a “cure-all solution” for various health problems; however, this is not true. Additionally, if a sufficient amount of prebiotics is not consumed, probiotics are less effective (Eliaz, 2020). To learn more about prebiotics, continue reading below.


Prebiotics – The Nourishment for Good Bacteria

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers and compounds that selectively serve as food for probiotics and other beneficial gut bacteria. Without prebiotics, the probiotics cannot ‘eat’ and thrive in the microbiome.

Here are some examples of prebiotic foods: whole grains, garlic, bananas, soybeans, greens, and artichokes.  

Prebiotics are not digested in the upper gastrointestinal tract; instead, they pass through to the colon where they are fermented by gut bacteria. This fermentation process produces short-chain fatty acids, which help nourish and support the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Health Benefits of Prebiotics

Prebiotics have been linked to improved gut health, enhanced mineral absorption, and a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases. They can also help regulate bowel movements and alleviate constipation (Markowiak & Śliżewska, 2017).


Synbiotics – The Dynamic Duo

Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics designed to work together synergistically. By providing both the beneficial bacteria and the nourishment they need, synbiotics aim to optimize gut health. These are usually found as supplements or added to foods.

Did you know that synbiotic supplements can be quite expensive? On average, a one-month supply will set you back $30-50. However, studies show that probiotics obtained from food are more beneficial than those from supplements (Homayoni et al., 2016), and usually cost less. If you decide to take supplements, read up on third-party certifications and choose wisely.


So, What Now?

Maintaining good gut health is important, and probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics can play a crucial role in achieving this. If you have a healthy digestive system and don’t experience frequent digestive problems, it is recommended that you focus on incorporating fermented and fiber-rich foods as supplements are unlikely to provide additional benefits.

For people with certain digestive conditions or taking antibiotics, adding probiotic supplements to their diet may help alleviate related symptoms. However, it is important to be aware that probiotic supplements also carry potential risks. They can cause allergic reactions and may lead to digestive issues such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation, especially for those with preexisting immune system or health concerns.

Before making significant changes to your diet or starting any new supplements, it’s always important to consult with a dietitian or healthcare provider to ensure they’re suitable for your health needs.


This post was co-written by:

Jessie Furman, MS, RDN, LD/N and Nirali Patel

Jessie is a Registered Dietitian and Assistant Director for Fitness & Wellness at the University of Florida’s Department of Recreational Sports, where she does individual nutrition counseling and coaching with the UF community. Follow her on Instagram for more nutrition tidbits.

Nirali is a Program Assistant with Nutrition Services at the Department of Recreational Sports. She is a 3rd-year dietetics major with a minor in health promotion.



Ansari, F., Pourjafar, H., Tabrizi, A., & Homayouni, A. (2020). The Effects of Probiotics and Prebiotics on Mental Disorders: A Review on Depression, Anxiety, Alzheimer, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Current pharmaceutical biotechnology21(7), 555–565.

Eliaz I. (2020). The Failure of Probiotics-and the Strategy of Microbiome Synergy. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.)19(3), 8–10.

Homayoni Rad, A., Vaghef Mehrabany, E., Alipoor, B., & Vaghef Mehrabany, L. (2016). The Comparison of Food and Supplement as Probiotic Delivery Vehicles. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition56(6), 896–909.

Markowiak, P., & Śliżewska, K. (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients9(9), 1021.