What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?

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Roshini C. Rajapaksa, MD
Gastroenterology
Probiotics are living organisms (in most cases bacteria) that confer a health benefit to humans. We all contain over 400 hundred species of probiotic bacteria in our digestive tract, which reduce the growth of unfavorable bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. Besides gut well-being, probiotics have other health-promoting benefits: They help boost the immune system, assist with the production of vitamins, including vitamins K, B12, B5 and biotin, and help prevent anti-inflammatory molecules from entering the bloodstream. Recent studies have also showed that probiotics can provide powerful skincare benefits. Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir, are good sources of probiotics. You can also find them in sauerkraut or other veggies like kimchi, kombucha or miso. 

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are indigestible dietary fibers that act as food for probiotics. In the digestive tract, prebiotics help maintain and stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria. Good sources of prebiotics include whole grains, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, dandelion root or Jerusalem artichoke. 
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Probiotics are live microorganisms ingested to change the balance of microbes in the gut and thereby confer a health benefit. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are not living organisms, but rather food ingredients meant to stimulate the growth of certain bacteria already present in the gut. Many foods and supplements now on the market claim to have probiotic or prebiotic effects.

Continue Learning about Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements

Whether you're visiting the drug store, grocery or natural food shop you'll likely find an aisle where there are jars and bottles of things for you to put in your body that are neither foods nor medicines. Ranging from vitamins an...

d minerals to fiber and herbal remedies, these supplements are not regulated in the same way as either food or medicine. Some of them are backed by solid research, others are folk remedies or proprietary cures. If your diet does not include enough of certain vitamins or minerals, a supplement may be a good idea. Natural treatment for conditions like constipation may be effective. But because these substances are unregulated, it is always a good idea to educate yourself about the products and to use common sense when taking them. This is even more true if you are pregnant or taking a medicine that may be affected by supplements.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.