Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

Main Difference – Prebiotics vs Probiotics

Prebiotics and Probiotics are more popular for preventing and reversing the signs of digestive tract related diseases and as a result, these food compounds are highly used for food, pharmaceuticals, and nutraceuticals industries. However, there seems to be much confusion over the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics among ordinary consumers.  Probiotics are living microorganisms that are beneficial to the health and well-being of their host organism’s digestive tract. This host can either be a human or an animal. Prebiotics are chemical substances that promote the growth or activity of probiotic microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi as well as they can change the composition of probiotics in the gut towards a healthier composition. This is the main difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics. In this article, let’s look at the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics regarding their intended uses and other chemical characteristics.

What is Probiotics

Probiotics are living human-friendly microorganisms that are beneficial for the health of the human gastrointestinal system. The human body is full of good and bad bacteria, and probiotics always represent the good and beneficial bacterial group.

Main Difference - Prebiotics vs Probiotics

Probiotic – Lactobacillus acidophilus

What is Prebiotics

Prebiotics are indigestible food ingredients that induce the growth and maintenance of beneficial gut probiotics.

Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

Jerusalem artichokes are rich in prebiotics

Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

The differences between prebiotics and probiotics can be divided into following categories. They are; 


ProbioticsAccording to The World Health Organization (2001) probiotics is defined as “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.

Prebiotics: According to Roberfroid research paper which is available in Journal of Nutrition (2007) the definition of prebiotics is “A 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.”


Probiotics:  Probiotics are living beneficial microorganisms.

Prebiotics: Prebiotics are indigestible food ingredients.


Probiotics: The concept of probiotics was first introduced by Élie Metchnikoff in 1907.

Prebiotics: The concept of prebiotics was first discovered and named by Marcel Roberfroid in 1995

Function in human body

Probiotics: Probiotics enhance the health and well-being of their host organisms’ digestive tract.


  • Provide foods for probiotics
  • Increase the number or activity of bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria
  • Alter the composition of beneficial microorganisms towards a positive one
  • Lead to increased production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA)

Heath Benefits

Probiotics: Probiotics provide many health benefits including the reduction of potentially pathogenic gastrointestinal microorganisms levels, their activity and the decrease of gastrointestinal discomfort. Also, they help to strengthen and enhance the performance of our immune system, the improvement of the skin’s function and the improvement of bowel regularity. As a result, probiotics can also prevent constipations, colon cancers,  the reduction of flatulence and bloating, and some colon ulcers. Furthermore, probiotics also protect DNA, proteins, and lipids from oxidative damage.

Prebiotics: Prebiotics provides many health benefits including enhancing immune system function and performances, bowel acidity, reduction of colorectal cancer development, inflammatory bowel disease, and hypertension.


Probiotics: Probiotics are living beneficial microorganisms such as Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus johnsonii, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp, Bulgaricus and Lactobacilus acidophilus

Prebiotics: Prebiotics are indigestible food ingredients such as trans-galactooligosaccharide, inulin, Larch arabinogalactin (LAG), resistant starch, pectin, beta-glucans and Xylooligosaccharides (XOS).


Probiotics: Yogurt, sauerkraut, Yakult, miso soup, fermented breakfast cereal and snack bars, soft cheeses (like Gouda), kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and even sourdough bread include probiotics. The most common property of all these foods is fermentation, a process that develops probiotics.

Prebiotics: Food rich in prebiotics include asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oatmeal, and legumes. In our daily diet, prebiotics are mainly non-digestible, they are fiber substances that cannot be digested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. As a result, they stimulate the growth or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as food or energy sources for them.

Side Effects

Probiotics: In some situations, dietary intake of probiotics could be harmful. For example, in a therapeutic human clinical trial conducted by the Dutch Pancreatitis Study Group, the intake of a mixture of six probiotic bacteria enhanced the death rate of patients with predicted severe sudden pancreatitis.

PrebioticsThe immediate intake of substantial amounts of prebiotics to the diet may result in an increase in fermentation, leading to increased gas production, bloating or bowel movement.

Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics - infographic

In conclusion, Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that help keep your digestive system healthy by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. In contrast, Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates, and they are food for probiotics. The principal health benefit of probiotics and prebiotics appears to be helping to maintain a healthy digestive system in both humans and animals.


Gibson GR, Roberfroid MB (Jun 1995). “Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: introducing the concept of prebiotics”. J Nutr. 125 (6): 1401–1412.

Roberfroid MB (March 2007). “Prebiotics: The Concept Revisited”. J Nutr. 137 (3 Suppl 2): 830S–7S.

Magdalena Araya, Catherine Stanton, Lorenzo Morelli, Gregor Reid, Maya Pineiro, et al., 2006, “Probiotics in food: health and nutritional properties and guidelines for evaluation,” Combined Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, Cordoba, Arentina, 1–4 October 2001, and Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Working Group on Drafting Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food, London, Ontario, Canada, 30 April–1 May 2002 [FAO Food and Nutrition paper 85], pp. 1–50, Rome, Italy:World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) [of the United Nations], ISBN 9251055130

Sanders ME (February 2000). Considerations for use of probiotic bacteria to modulate human health. The Journal of Nutrition 130 (2S Suppl): 384S–390S. PMID 10721912

Image Courtesy:

“Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic – a beneficial bacteria residing in the digestive tract of humans” By Bởi Bob Blaylock – Tác phẩm do chính người tải lên tạo ra, [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Commons Wikimedia

“Jeruselam Artichokes” By Gilabrand at English Wikipedia, (CC BY-SA 3.0)  via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Yashoda

Yashoda has been a freelance writer in the field of biology for about four years. He is an expert in conducting research related to polymer chemistry and nano-technology. He holds a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in Applied Science and a Master of Science degree in Industrial Chemistry.