What is the difference between probiotic and prebiotic supplements?

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Probiotics are found in fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, natural yoghurt and kombucha, as well as probiotic supplements. Supplements have high amounts of specific strains in concentrated doses that are often used to achieve specific therapeutic goals. Fermented foods have smaller amounts of probiotic species compared to supplements, yet a more diverse number of species. 

This means you need to eat a lot of certain types of fermented food to get a therapeutic dose of a specific strain. Probiotics are transient in the gut. Once ingested, they move through the gut and interact with the existing gut flora in your digestive system having positive effects on things like your immune system (because 80% of immune cells are located in the gut) and digestive system. They are then excreted from the gut after about 1-2 days. 

Because probiotics are transient, people in research that are given probiotics show no changes in their gut flora (via stool testing) post supplementation, however their symptoms improve. Research shows that specific strains do specific things, therefore depending on what you are trying to address with your health, will determine what strains you need to be supplementing with. Therefore, any probiotic that you got over the counter at the pharmacy, at a health food store or online, will likely not suffice.

Also, supplement quality is very important when it comes to probiotics. Lots of research shows that probiotics sold over the counter may not be shelf stable leaving the probiotics prone to degeneration and may not contain the exact strains that are shown on the label. Probiotics are certainly helpful for treating not only digestive conditions but other health issues linking back to the gut microbiome (e.g. skin, hormone, immune and autoimmune conditions), however you need to supplement with good quality probiotics with the correct strains for the correct symptoms and health condition.  


Prebiotics on the other hand help feed the good bacteria in the gut and actually change gut bacteria composition. Unlike probiotics, people given prebiotics in research show changes in their symptoms, as well as their gut flora composition, post prebiotic use. Prebiotics help to increase good strains of bacteria that are beneficial to your digestive system and overall health. Prebiotics are found in things like fruit and vegetables through the various types of fibre found in our fruit and vegetables. This is why eating a wide variety of plant based foods can really help improve a person’s gut bacteria composition. In saying that though, some people with certain digestive issues like IBS may react to certain fruit and vegetables, which is a discussion for another post. You can also supplement with various types of fibre supplements. Once again, specific prebiotic fibre supplements are used to treat specific conditions, therefore when supplementing, it is important to supplement with the right,  good quality prebiotics, in order to achieve the desired goal and therapeutic outcome.

The composition of gut bacteria is vital to our digestive health and overall health. Diet and lifestyle habits are the most important factors that affect our gut flora composition and must be addressed when looking to treat health conditions that are related to the gut flora, such as skin, immune, autoimmune, hormone and gut conditions. Supplementation with pro and prebiotics can also be very useful as well, however it is important to supplement with good quality supplements that are specific to the health condition that needs to be treated.

If you suffer from digestive issues, or conditions that can be driven by gut flora imbalances such skin, hormones or immune system conditions, call Oak Health today or book an appointment online to find out how practical and evidence based diet and lifestyle changes, as well as herbal and nutritional supplementation such as probiotics and prebiotics, can be used to address the underlying causes of your health issues. 

You may also want to enquire about the 6 week gut health treatment program.

For more information on Oak Health’s approach to treating gut issues, skin issues, hormone imbalances and immune dysfunction, check out the treatment pages here.