FiberPre, Pro, Synbiotics

Probiotic, prebiotic, synbiotic: What’s the difference?

Confusing? It won’t be after this.

The term, “probiotic” (meaning “for life”) was coined in the 1960’s, although the concept was introduced early in the 20th century. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that normally live in the intestines. They are found in foods such as yogurt, and in dietary supplements. Examples are Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. The beneficial effects of probiotics are achieved by changing the microflora (numbers and types of bacteria) within the intestines.

A prebiotic is a “non-digestible” food ingredient. Its beneficial effects are achieved by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria. Prebiotics differ from dietary fiber in that prebiotics act selectivity on certain bacteria. Examples include germinated barley foodstuff and inulin-based compounds.

Finally, synbiotic refers to a product containing both probiotics and prebiotics where the prebiotic compound selectively enhances the action of probiotic compound. An example is a product containing oligofructose and probiotic bifidobacteria. Abstracts on research conduced by SYNCAM (Synbiotics and Cancer Prevention in Humans) are presented here.

More information is presented here and here.

8/14/06 10:10 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.