Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics are always the topic in the food industry. Some companies make millions by just stating that their dairy products, processed food contain prebiotics or probiotics. Truly, their sales increase due to the fact that scientific research has proved they claim characteristics beneficial to health. Are these two the same?


Pre-biotics as the name implies must have an early form of health benefit, and it is absolutely correct. Prebiotics are a group of nutrients which has the ability to promote growth of healthy bacteria living inside our bodies. As the definition states, “prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health”. So what are these beneficial bacteria is our next question. Well, it is found that bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria fit the definition well. Prebiotics can enhance their growth and activity and thereby indirectly improve digestion, improve mineral absorption, promote immune system functioning, protect from irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, and in the long term use, decrease probability of colon cancer.

Prebiotics can be short chain prebiotics like oligofructose or long chain prebiotics like inulin. It can also be a mixture of broad spectrum such as oligofructose enhanced inulin. These act at different parts of the colon. Short chain prebiotics in the right side of the colon rapidly, long chain prebiotics in the left side of the colon much slowly, and broad spectrum prebiotics enhance microbe activity throughout the colon. Some popular food items carrying prebiotics are soybeans, unrefined barley or wheat, and raw oats. Some prebiotics are naturally occurring in breast milk and has shown to enhance a child’s immunity.


Probiotics are not food supplements or nutrients. These are microorganisms which show beneficial activity towards well-being and health. These are of course the two groups of bacteria that were mentioned earlier where prebiotics have shown to increase growth. Lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria are the most common types, but some strains of yeast and bacilli are also considered as probiotics. If these live cultures are consumed as a part of the food, we say that food contained probiotics. Yoghurt and dietary supplements are the most popular examples.

Fecal transplant is also a way of introducing probiotics where a person who has an infected colon receives stool from a healthy person as a suppository. When people take antibiotics to cure certain illnesses it is unavoidable that antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria along with the pathogens. As a result, a person may experience diarrhea of discomfort after eating. When probiotics are introduced once again to the digestive system, it could be brought back to the usual state. What prebiotics promised to deliver probiotics do them. That is, improve digestion, improve mineral absorption, promote immune system functioning, protect from irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, and colon cancer. However it is advisable to take both for a healthy person. It is not suitable to give either of the two to a critically ill person.

What is the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

• Prebiotics are a group of nutrients and probiotics are a group of bacteria.

• Prebiotics promote well-being and health indirectly by increasing the activity and growth of probiotic bacteria, but probiotics do it directly.