The Happy gut

A detailed look at the microbiota and how to manipulate it for optimal health

Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics – What’s The Difference?

Posted in Supplements on February 8th, 2017

A common complaint these days when it comes to gut health is that it’s a difficult landscape to navigate. If ones goes to the health store, they are presented with a pile of different options in terms of prebiotics and probiotics, each with their own idiosyncrasies.

If you occasionally find yourself scratching your head when you walk into a health food store, then this post should help sort you out.


A probiotic is basically a capsule (or sometimes a powder) that contains beneficial bacteria. Once these are ingested, the will hopefully make it past the acid in the stomach and eventually into the gut, where they will contribute their awesomeness. And while it’s true that probiotics can lead to improved health outcomes, one thing to be aware of is that most probiotics do not colonize the gut. They are like people who come to your party – they make it a lot more fun while they are there, but at the end of the night they are probably going home (if you’re lucky).

What that means is once you start taking a probiotic, you usually have to continue taking it to receive ongoing health benefits. If you look at the price tag for a lot of probiotics, that can be a significant investment going forward. So a person really has to weigh the pros of the treatment with the cons of the cost. For many people though, the cost isn’t really a huge burden if they can actually achieve a better health outcome.

Common probiotics these days usually contain some type of bifidobacterium and also some lactobacillus, but there are many different types. You can take a look at a current listing of probiotics on Amazon.


Prebiotics are different beasts entirely. Instead of adding new bacteria to your gut as they pass through, prebiotics are fermentable food meant to feed the beneficial bacteria that are already in your gut. While most healthy food has some type of fermentable carbohydrates in it to help feed your gut, prebiotics are typically refined sources of particular types, such as resistant starch or oligofructose.

Here are some examples of prebiotics on Amazon. I’ve personally used the prebiotin power myself, and it helped to increase bifidobacterium in my gut.


In case you haven’t guessed yet, synbiotics are combinations of both prebiotics and probiotics, meant to give you the health benefits of both. Often they will be combined in such a way that the prebiotics are meant to feed the specific bacteria contained the probiotics, giving a person a double whammy.

So next time you head down to the health food store, you’ll have a bit more knowledge about what all these such-and-such-biotics, and how each of them can help someone with a suboptimal gut. We’ll dive into the specific types of prebiotics and probiotics shortly and highlight which types of bacteria each will supply or help to enhance.