Prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics: Promoting our health

Prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics: Promoting our health

What's the difference between pre-, pro- and synbiotics?

When it comes to keeping our bodies healthy, we often focus on nutrition and exercise, but we might not always consider the importance of our gut. The gut (our intestines) plays a crucial role in our overall well-being, so understanding prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics can help maintain a healthy gut and promote better health. 

But the terms are confusing and we're still learning how they work together to support our digestive system and prevent inflammation in our entire body. There's even another one: dysbiosis, "an imbalance in bacterial composition, changes in bacterial metabolic activities, or changes in bacterial distribution within the gut."

The gut microbiome

Before diving into prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics, let's take a moment to understand the gut microbiome, what we used to call "the intestinal flora," refers to the community of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more, that reside in our digestive tract. Unbelievably, there are more of these microorganisms in our gut than there are cells in our body—and they play a vital role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and even influencing our immune system.


Probiotics are live microorganisms, primarily beneficial bacteria. When they are consumed in adequate amounts, they can provide health benefits. These "friendly" bacteria can help restore the balance of the gut microbiome, especially after disruptions like illness or the use of antibiotics.

Common sources of probiotics include:

  1. Yogurt: Contains strains of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
  2. Kefir: A fermented dairy product similar to yogurt but with a broader range of beneficial bacteria.
  3. Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha.
  4. Supplements: Probiotic supplements are available in various forms, containing specific strains of bacteria. But it's important to understand the benefits are often specific to that strain. For example, some have more of an effect in helping babies with colic; others work in those with ulcerative colitis or an irritable intestine.  

Probiotics work by helping to populate the gut with beneficial bacteria, which can support digestion, boost the immune system, and even contribute to mental health.


Prebiotics are non-digestible dietary fibers that serve as food for the beneficial bacteria in our gut. Think of prebiotics as the "fuel" for the good bacteria in your digestive system. They promote the growth and activity of these helpful microorganisms.

Common sources of prebiotics include:

  1. Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, and citrus fruits.
  2. Vegetables: Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and artichokes.
  3. Whole Grains: Oats, wheat bran, and barley.
  4. Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, and beans.
  5. Nuts and seeds: Almonds, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.

Including prebiotic-rich foods in your diet can help support a healthy gut microbiome by providing nourishment for all the beneficial bacteria in the intestine, not just the probiotics someone takes. These bacteria, in turn, help break down and ferment prebiotic fibers, producing compounds that can benefit our health.


Synbiotics combine prebiotics and probiotics, creating a powerful combination that promotes the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. By providing both the "food" (prebiotics) and the "workers" (probiotics), synbiotics aim to enhance the overall health of the gut microbiome.

You can find synbiotics in various forms, such as supplements and certain functional foods. These products typically contain specific strains of probiotics along with prebiotic fibers that nourish those strains.

The benefits of a healthy gut

Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome through prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics can offer a range of health benefits:

  1. Improved digestion: A balanced gut microbiome can help with efficient digestion and the absorption of nutrients.
  2. Enhanced immunity: Beneficial gut bacteria play a role in supporting the immune system's function.
  3. Mental health: Emerging research suggests a connection between gut health and mental well-being, as the gut and brain communicate through the gut-brain axis.
  4. Weight management: A balanced gut microbiome may contribute to healthy weight regulation.
  5. Reduced inflammation: A healthy gut can help reduce chronic inflammation, which is linked to various health conditions.
  6. Regular bowel movements: A balanced gut microbiome can help regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation.

Tips for incorporating prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics into your diet

Here are some practical tips for incorporating these gut-friendly elements into your daily routine:

1. Eat a variety of foods: Consume a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to naturally include prebiotics in your diet.

2. Yogurt and kefir: Enjoy yogurt and kefir as part of your breakfast or as a snack. Look for options labeled with live and active cultures.

3. Fermented foods: Explore fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kombucha for probiotic benefits.

4. Probiotic supplements: If you choose to take probiotic supplements, consult with a healthcare professional to select the most suitable product for your needs. Note too, that these are live microorganisms, so the fresher they are, the healthier they are likely to be.

5. Read labels: When considering synbiotic products, read labels to ensure they contain both prebiotics and specific probiotic strains.

6. Cook with prebiotic-rich ingredients: Incorporate ingredients like garlic, onions, and whole grains into your cooking to naturally introduce prebiotics to your meals.

7. Be consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to reaping the benefits of prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics. Make these elements a regular part of your diet.

Potential considerations

While prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics can offer numerous health benefits, some individuals may experience digestive discomfort or gas when first introducing these elements into their diet. Start slowly and gradually increase your intake to allow your gut to adjust.

If you have underlying health conditions or concerns about how prebiotics, probiotics, or synbiotics may interact with medications or specific dietary restrictions, consult with a healthcare provider for personalized guidance.


Prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics are valuable tools for promoting gut health and overall well-being. By understanding how these elements work and incorporating them into your diet wisely, you can support a healthy gut microbiome and potentially experience a range of health benefits. Remember that a balanced and varied diet, along with a healthy lifestyle, plays a significant role in maint

aining good gut health and overall vitality.

Sources and Resources


Nutrition Clinical Practice

PLoS Biology

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Canadian J Psychiatry


Nutrition4Kids Videos