“Probiotic”, “Prebiotic” & “Postbiotic”, what’s the difference?

“Probiotic”, “Prebiotic” & “Postbiotic”, what’s the difference?

Kevin Meza Achahue, Scientist - R&D Specialist at Bifidice. 2 minutes reading

They may sound similar, but pre-, post-, and probiotics are three different categories, all related to the balance of intestinal microbiota and health. This confusion seems to persist among the population. For example, a study in the United Kingdom showed that less than one-fifth (19%) of the respondents understood the differences between the health benefits of prebiotics and probiotics, with nearly 40% incorrectly identifying yogurt as a source of prebiotics [1]. In another study, it was found that 80% of Americans believed that postbiotics were the same as prebiotics and probiotics, indicating a significant lack of knowledge regarding the maintenance of intestinal health [2]. What are each of these terms, and why should we know them?

Pre, Pro, & Post

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as a food source for beneficial bacteria in gut microbiota. They can be found in various types of plant-based foods, such as legumes, certain fruits, and vegetables like garlic or onions [3]. 

On the other hand, probiotics include all beneficial microorganisms (including bacteria and some types of yeasts) in the gut microbiota, which can have positive effects on health, particularly for the digestive and immune systems [4]. These can be found in certain fermented foods and can also be carefully incorporated during the production stages of other foods, with concentrations regulated according to each region's regulations, as is the case with our Bifidice ice creams.

A recent idea involves the synergistic combination of beneficial bacteria and their respective nutritional sources: synbiotics. Although the term is relatively new, supplements containing blends of prebiotics and probiotics have existed for many years [5].

Finally, postbiotics are the metabolites or byproducts produced by probiotics as a result of their metabolism, especially associated with the consumption of prebiotics. Among all the compounds produced, short-chain fatty acids stand out, which have been linked to various health benefits, both within and outside the gastrointestinal tract [6][7].

Is there one that is better?

Pre, pro, and postbiotics have been studied and present significant benefits for people's health, either individually or in combinations. It is important to note that traditionally, probiotics have a longer history than prebiotics and postbiotics.

The idea of a probiotic emerged in the early 20th century with Elie Metchnikoff, who linked the high life expectancy of Bulgarians in rural areas to the consumption of fermented foods such as yogurt. Years later, in 1953, scientist Werner Kollath formally defined the concept of "probiotic" as an "active substance that is essential for the healthy development of life" [8]. On the other hand, the term "prebiotic" was first mentioned in the literature in 1995 by G. Gibson and M. Roberfroid [9]. Finally, the term "postbiotic" is recent and emerged in the early 21st century.

With all this in mind, it is important to highlight that each year, advances in bioinformatics and molecular biology technologies are allowing a deeper understanding of each of these concepts. As Bifidice, we hope to contribute to the scientific development that enables us to understand how these elements have major implications for human health.



[1] Morrison (2023), Study reveals UK is truly confused about all issues relating to how to stimulate a healthy gut. Food Navigator Europe. 


[2] Cargill Health Technologies (2021), Majority of American's are Confused About Postbiotics, Prebiotics and Probiotics. Cision PR Newswire. 

[3] Holscher, H. D. (2017). Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut Microbes, 8(2), 172-184. https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2017.1290756

[4] Marco, M. L., Sanders, M. E., Gänzle, M., Arrieta, M. C., Cotter, P. D., De Vuyst, L., Hill, C., Holzapfel, W., Lebeer, S., Merenstein, D., Reid, G., Wolfe, B. E., & Hutkins, R. (2021). The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on fermented foods. Nature Reviews. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 18(3), 196–208. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41575-020-00390-5 

[5] Markowiak, P., & Śliżewska, K. (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients, 9(9), 1021. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9091021 

[6] Tan, J., McKenzie, C., Potamitis, M., Thorburn, A. N., Mackay, C. R., & Macia, L. (2014). The role of short-chain fatty acids in health and disease. Advances in Immunology, 121, 91-119. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-800100-4.00003-9 

[7] den Besten, G., van Eunen, K., Groen, A. K., Venema, K., Reijngoud, D.-J., & Bakker, B. M. (2013). The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. Journal of Lipid Research, 54(9), 2325–2340. https://doi.org/10.1194/jlr.R036012 

[8] Gasbarrini, G., Bonvicini, F., & Gramenzi, A. (2016). Probiotics History. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 50(Suppl 2), S116-S119. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCG.0000000000000697 

[9] Gibson, G. R., & Roberfroid, M. B. (1995). Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: introducing the concept of prebiotics. The Journal of Nutrition, 125(6), 1401-1412. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/125.6.1401 

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