In this blog:

Our team of sceptics ask the questions you want to know. Why are probiotics so popular? What the heck are synbiotics? And can I get enough friendly bacteria from food?
[3-4 Min Read] 

Probiotics can be found everywhere.

Theyre in the food we eat, the things we drink, and the supplements we take. However, many people are unaware of how much and what kinds of probiotics theyre taking in on a daily basis. While having probiotics is good and taking them can be beneficial, being informed about them is even more important.  

The term probiotic comes from the Latin words pro and bios meaning pro-life. Probiotics are microorganisms, the good bacteria, that contain health benefits to the host when taken.There are actually trillions of these bacteria in your body right now and while people usually think of bacteria as bad, the bacterium in probiotics is helpful. Your body has a naturally occurring amount of both good and bad bacteria that allow us to function normally in our day-to-day lives without a problem. However, when the bacterium in our body is not in equilibrium or is thrown out of balance, that is when we start to have a variety of different mental and physical health problems. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety, bloating, and frequent infections are all signs of a possible lack of or imbalance of bacteria. Taking probiotics can help to bring the good bacteria back into the hosts body. 

While the bacteria in a persons body is naturally occurring, there are ways of getting good bacteria without supplements. One of these ways is by eating food that is high in naturally occurring bacteria. Yogurts, kombucha, pickles, miso, kimchi, sourdough bread, and some cheeses are all great ways of getting good bacteria. This is because of the fermentation that occurs when making these foods. Fermentation is the process that foods and beverages go through for controlled microbial growth.Fermentation of food has long been known to produce positive health benefits with natural bacteria being a large part of that. While the probiotics found in fermented food are a great source of good bacteria, sometimes it is not enough to bring a persons microbiome back into balance. This is because the amount of fermented foods needed to be consumed to reach the ideal bacterial balance far outweighs a persons eating capacity. That is where probiotic supplements come in.  

Probiotic supplements are some of the most popular supplements on the market. In fact, the business behind studying peoples microbiomes and making probiotic supplements is estimated to be an over $35 billion industry. This is because of how effective scientists are at knowing exactly what bacteria people are missing in their microbiome and creating supplements to rebalance the microbiome. In a microbiome, the trillions of bacteria arent all the same. There are many different types of good and bad bacteria and finding which bacteria a person is missing can be difficult. Most probiotics on the market, however, have a wide range of bacteria included so whatever a person is missing, the probiotic can be effective. Sometimes probiotics alone arent as effective as they need to be. That is where prebiotics and postbiotics come in.  

What are prebiotics? 

Prebiotics were first discovered in 1995 as an addition to probiotics that help stimulate the growth of bacteria in the gut and increase the effectiveness of a probiotic. Prebiotics are created from plant fibres and are intended to help a persons digestive system and organs work better. Because prebiotics are still a relatively new discovery in the field of supplements, their uses and applications are an increasing topic of interest for scientists.  

Like probiotics, prebiotics are also found naturally in food. Whole grains, bananas, garlic, soybeans, honey, and seaweed are all foods that have naturally occurring prebiotics. However, prebiotics are less abundant in food than probiotics. So, to make up for the lack of naturally occurring prebiotics, scientists have been making prebiotic supplements to increase the amount of prebiotics a person gets. Also, like probiotics, if a person is not getting enough prebiotics from the foods they eat, supplements are necessary to make up for the difference. Two types of prebiotics exist: fructo-oligosaccharides and galacto-oligosaccharides. Since these two types of prebiotics only occur naturally in low quantities in foods, taking supplements is an important part of getting the necessary prebiotics.  Along with probiotics and prebiotics, there is a third type of -biotics that is vital in keeping a healthy gut: postbiotics. 

What are postbiotics? 

Postbiotics are different from both probiotics and prebiotics because postbiotics are what is left behind from prebiotics and postbiotics. Healthy postbiotics include nutrients such as vitamins B and K, amino acids, and substances called antimicrobial peptides that help to slow down the growth of harmful bacteria. Other postbiotic substances called short-chain fatty acids enable healthy bacteria to flourish. Think of postbiotics as the workers that step in after the probiotics have done their job. This is because postbiotics are a byproduct of probiotic fermentation, so the direct source of postbiotics is probiotics. Since postbiotics come from probiotics, foods that can help increase the concentration of postbiotics in the gut are the same or similar foods that contain probiotics: yogurts, sauerkraut, miso, cheese, pickles, and sourdough bread.  

Some benefits of postbiotics include: 

  1. Lowering blood sugar and helping to prevent obesity.
  2. Supporting probiotics.
  3. Treating diarrhea.
  4. Antimicrobial properties.
  5. Supporting the immune system in infants and people with difficult conditions.
  6. Reduction of inflammation 

 What are synbiotics? 

Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics work in sequence to support the microbiome. Prebiotics create a setting for probiotics to be most effective, probiotics deliver the good bacteria to the microbiome, and postbiotics ensure that the bacteria are effective and last in the gut. When a supplement has all three, the supplement is called a synbiotic. Scientists Gibson and Roberfroid coined the term synbiotic in 1995 to refer to a combination of a probiotic and a prebiotic. Synbiotics got their name because of the synergistic nature that prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics have when working together. Studies have been conducted that show that synbiotics are more effective when compared to taking probiotics alone. A synbiotic is defined as a mixture of probiotics and prebiotics that beneficially affects the host by improving the survival and activity of beneficial microorganisms in the gut.  

Studies carried out on living hosts to show the effectiveness of synbiotics have proven synergistic health effects in the hosts. These tests also show that there are two main types of synbiotics: complementary and synergistic. Complementary synbiotics have both the probiotic and prebiotic components of the synbiotic work independently to achieve health benefits. Synergistic synbiotics have both the probiotic and prebiotic work as a team to confer a health benefit. The type one chooses to take does not affect the health benefits obtained from synbiotics; it's still more beneficial compared to a lone prebiotic or probiotic. Synbiotics, therefore, are sometimes recommended for improving health even though quality synbiotics can be difficult to find. 

Because of the positive effects that probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics can have on one's health, there are many compelling reasons to include these dietary supplements in your routine. The most important thing is to keep up with the latest health facts concerning any probiotic supplements that you might be interested in taking and to have a clear idea of the specific kinds of health benefits that you are hoping to derive from taking the supplements. 


Andreu Prados Andreu Prados holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy & Human Nutrition and Dietetics. Science writer specialized in gut microbiota and probiotics. “Synbiotics: More than Simply a Probiotic-Prebiotic Combination.” Gut Microbiota for Health, 10 Aug. 2021,

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