What we need to know about probiotics and prebiotics


The human intestine is considered a micro-ecosystem, in which resident microorganisms work jointly and bilaterally with host cells through a symbiosis process, playing the role of protection, preventing the establishment of pathogenic bacteria. This occurs when there is an appropriate balance of the gut microbiota, which plays a key role in both health and disease. This balance can be ensured by eating foods and/or functional supplements that contain probiotics and prebiotics.

Functional foods, in addition to providing basic nutrition, promote health, as they offer several benefits and quality of life to the consumer, and can play a potentially beneficial role in reducing the risk of chronic degenerative diseases.

In recent years, science has evolved a lot in an attempt to clarify the role and action of prebiotics and probiotics on the intestinal microbiota and its relationship with health. In addition to playing important roles in the formation and maintenance of a healthy and balanced intestinal microbiota, the daily and regular intake of these ingredients can bring many benefits that go beyond digestive/intestinal health, such as supporting cardio-metabolic health, the immune system and even mental health, reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety.

While both probiotics and prebiotics are linked to improved health and are safe for most people, they are two completely different ingredients with actions well established by science.


The International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), define probiotics as live microorganisms that, when ingested in adequate amounts, confer health benefits on the host.

The benefits of probiotics, which are already well established by science, are:

  • help maintain the balance (symbiosis) of the intestinal microbiota;
  • they act in the recovery of the intestinal microbiota after diarrhea and/or use of antibiotics;
  • decrease intestinal transit time, promoting relief in cases of constipation;
  • reduce the colonization of pathogenic bacteria;
  • aid in the absorption of important micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins;
  • improve protein digestion;
  • improve lactose digestion in individuals with intolerance;
  • they act to reduce the ulcerative activity of Helicobacter pylori;
  • improve lipid metabolism, reducing total cholesterol levels with a decrease in LDL;
  • improve glycemic metabolism, reducing insulin intolerance;
  • have antihypertensive effects;
  • stimulate the immune system;
  • act in the prevention of urogenital infections;
  • reduce the risk of colon cancer;
  • reduce the risk of atopic eczema;
  • reduce the risk of periodontitis;
  • improve mental health, by reducing symptoms of stress and anxiety,
  • memory and sleep improvement, among others.


THE ISAPPin 2017 defined prebiotics as: “substrate that is selectively used by microorganisms of the host, conferring health benefits”.

In summary, the main beneficial effects of prebiotics on health, proven by scientific studies are:

  • improved metabolic health: reduced risk of overweight and obesity; reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus; reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and dyslipidemia; and decreased inflammation;
  • reduced satiety;
  • stimulate intestinal neurochemical-producing bacteria;
  • improve the absorption of calcium and other minerals;
  • act on skin health, improving water retention and reducing erythema;
  • act in the reduction of food allergies;
  • decrease the risk and/or relieve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease;
  • improvements in urogenital health;
  • improve bowel habits and general bowel health;
  • reduce the risk and/or symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis in premature babies
  • decrease the risk of traveler’s diarrhea;
  • decrease intestinal transit time, relieving constipation;
  • improves immune function.

To keep the intestinal microbiota balanced and healthy, it is recommended that the consumption of probiotics and prebiotics be daily and regular, especially during and after the use of antibiotics, which end up destroying the bacteria that live there.

For Kathia F. Schmider, nutritionist, specialist in public health nutrition and technical coordinator at ABIAD, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing day-to-day stress, in addition to getting good sleep, are attitudes that favor the proper functioning of the human body and the probiotics and prebiotics associated with these practices can offer a positive effect on health when consumed in adequate amounts.

*abiad – Brazilian Association of the Food Industry for Special Purposes and the like.


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