Probiotics and Prebiotics: What Are They and What’s the Difference Between Them?


Do you know the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, what foods provide them or the health benefits they bring? You will find the answers in this guide.

Probiotics and prebiotics should be part of a balanced diet because of their beneficial health properties, but the two terms are often used together. confused .

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probiotics are organisms alive that remain active in the gut, adding to the existing microbiota (the population of bacteria in the gut), while the prebiotics serve as food for these beneficial bacteria.


  • Strengthen the immune system . In the right amounts, probiotics improve the immune system’s defenses by increasing immunoglobulins and leukocytes; thus helping to prevent infections, inflammatory diseases or allergies.
  • fight diarrhea . Probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis are useful as a complementary treatment for diarrhea caused by viruses such as rotavirus (the main cause of diarrhea in children) or bacteria such as salmonella .
  • Improve stomach and intestine health . Consuming probiotics helps to reduce symptoms or prevent infections caused by bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori (which causes peptic ulcer). Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria also help reduce intestinal inflammation in conditions such as irritable bowel or Crohn’s disease.
  • Prevent colon cancer . Studies indicate that probiotics such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria modify the intestinal flora and help prevent colon cancer. A healthy microbiota is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system, which struggles daily to fight cancer cells.
  • reduce constipation . Probiotic bacteria such as L. reuteri , L. casei rhamnosus , Bifidobacterium breve or Bifidobacterium lactis improve stool consistency and increase bowel movements.
  • Prevent and reduce allergy symptoms . A balanced microbiota reduces the body’s inflammatory response, which helps to prevent and fight allergic symptoms, which is why probiotics are recommended in case of asthma, atopic dermatitis or other allergic reactions.
  • Prevent vaginal and urinary infections . Probiotics favor the restoration of the vaginal flora and reduce vaginal and urinary infections (the latter caused by the bacteria E. coli ).
  • fight depression . A balanced intestinal flora favors the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin that improve mood and reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Reduce respiratory infections . Consumption of probiotics strengthens alveolar defenses and reduces the risk of bronchitis, pneumonia or otitis.
  • Helps digest lactose especially in people with lactose intolerance.
  • Treat obesity and diabetes . A study published in Microbiome suggests that the microbiota of people with diabetes and obesity is altered, which increases blood levels of succinate, a metabolite that increases inflammation. Researchers have shown that the metabolic health of these people can be improved with specific probiotic bacteria that reduce levels of this metabolite.
  • improve autism . The connection between the gut and the brain is demonstrated. Studies indicate that behavior improves in autism with the administration of probiotics.


If you’ve ever been in a situation that change the gut microbiota and destroyed beneficial bacteria, it is advisable to increase the consumption of probiotics from natural sources or taking supplements (under medical or pharmaceutical recommendation). It can occur after taking antibiotics, diarrhea, stress stages, vaginal infections, or unhealthy diets. The consumption of probiotics should always be combined with that of prebiotics.


What are probiotics? PHOTO: PIXABAY

Read too: Understand how probiotics work in the body

  • Natural yogurt.
  • Kefir.
  • Kombucha (fermented drink made from black tea).
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and other pickles, such as cucumbers.
  • Bread made with yeast.
  • Products made from fermented soybeans, such as miso or tempeh.


Supplements can include between 1 and 10 different types of probiotics. The most known are:

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  • Bifidobacteria longum . Very common in the intestine. Contributes to the elimination of toxins from the body.
  • Bifidobacteria bifidum . Helps digest dairy.
  • Bifidobacteria Brevis . It abounds in the intestines and vagina and helps to prevent bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Bifidobacteria animalis . It strengthens the immune system and fights infections from contaminated food.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii . Useful for treating traveler’s diarrhea or diarrhea caused by antibiotics.
  • Lactobacillus fermentum . It neutralizes toxins caused by digestion and promotes healthy intestinal flora.
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus . It facilitates digestion and promotes the absorption of nutrients.
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus . Effective against traveller’s diarrhea, candidiasis or skin conditions such as eczema or acne.
  • Lactobacillus reuteri . In addition to the intestine, it is abundant in the mouth and stomach. helps prevent Helicobacter pylori infections .


Prebiotics are components that are present in vegetables and that are not digestible through the digestive system, so they pass to the intestine where they serve as food for the beneficial bacteria of the intestinal flora to multiply. By increasing the good bacteria, the proportion of pathogens is reduced.


The most prominent prebiotics are fruit oligosaccharides (FOS), galacto -oligosaccharides (GOS) and others oligosaccharides , inulin or lactulose .

They are plant fibers that are abundant in fruits, vegetables, or whole grains , so the list of foods with a prebiotic effect is very long. Generally, foods rich in complex carbohydrates that are a source of fiber or resistant starch have a prebiotic effect.

  • Improve intestinal flora increasing the number of bacteria such as bifidobacteria.
  • They fight constipation . These plant fibers increase the volume of stools and facilitate their evacuation.
  • They help regulate glucose levels . They slow the passage of sugars from the intestine to the blood, preventing glucose spikes from occurring. That’s why a diet rich in vegetables helps prevent diabetes.
  • Increase satiety and reduce appetite . Fiber-rich foods stay in the digestive system longer, helping to reduce hunger.
  • They lower cholesterol and triglycerides . They reduce the absorption of fats, as they favor their evacuation instead of passing into the bloodstream.
  • They reduce the risk of colon cancer . Prebiotics have a dragging and cleansing effect on the intestine that prevents the accumulation of toxins with carcinogenic potential.
  • They improve mood, reducing anxiety and the risk of depression . Low microbial diversity (the microbiota is made up of millions of bacteria) or an increase in pathogens or “bad bacteria” have been shown to negatively affect mental health. The reason for this is that the gut microbiota influences the development and maturation of neural connections that are related to emotional behavior. One study showed that the consumption of prebiotics such as ructanes and oligosaccharides found in cereals, fruits and vegetables has psychobiotic action and help reduce anxiety in young women.
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