Understanding the Difference Between Probiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics, and Postbiotics

Understanding the Difference Between Probiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics, and Postbiotics

  • Probiotics 101

  • By Jef L’Ecuyer, Registered Dietitian

    Probiotics and digestive health are not just a trendy hot topic in the world of wellness. By gaining a better understanding of our microbiome, we can more fully understand the universe that lives inside us, and the critical role that it has on our overall health and well-being.

    As more and more people recognize the microbiome as a vital component of our health, a bigger and brighter spotlight shines on it. This limelight has both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, we see more clinical studies1 and research investigating the role of the microbiome, so we have a better understanding of the role it has in our body. On the other hand, we see more and more products flooding the market, hoping to ride the coattails of a good thing. It can be easy to get lost in the noise and the clutter.

    Whether you're new to the world of digestive health, or just trying to grasp an understanding of the ever-changing market (like what are synbiotics?!), we are here to help.


    Probiotics vs. Prebiotics vs. Synbiotics vs. Postbiotics



    Probiotics are living bacteria that are beneficial to our health.2 We can consume probiotics either through food or supplements. The body is populated already with some of these good bugs but supplementing with a high-quality probiotic, such as Bio-K+ ensures your body has enough of them so that they can interact with your intestinal flora and support your digestive system, immune system and so much more.

    When it comes to probiotic supplementation, quality matters and not all probiotics are created equal. If you’re new to our brand, you should know that the unique patented formula created by Bio-K+ includes three strains of probiotic bacteria: L. acidophilus CL1285®L. casei LBC80R® and L. rhamnosus CLR2®.

    These three strains have been extensively studied in their own right, as well as shown to work even better when paired together to promote microbiome health in your body. What's also interesting to note, is that Bio-K+ probiotic drinks are both a supplement and a fermented food. This unique format ensures that the 50 billion bacteria found in each bottle of Bio-K+ are alive and active all the way to your large intestine, where they can do their work.



    Formally defined, a prebiotic “is a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit”.3 More directly, this means prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates found in certain foods (such as onion, garlic, asparagus, green banana and chicory root), that have a beneficial part in shaping our gut microbiota along with probiotics. Our digestive enzymes are unable to break these fibres down. Because of this, these fibres serve as food to our gut, fueling, supporting and encouraging the growth of the good bacteria already present in our gut.4

    There are many reports on the beneficial effects of prebiotics on digestive health, and while there is significantly more research on probiotics, prebiotic research is increasing in its scope.3 Studies have shown that introducing prebiotics into the diet have had positive effects on establishing and maintaining a well-balanced microbiota. Research has also demonstrated that including enough prebiotic fibre in the diet (both from food and supplements), resulted in considerable health benefits for the microbiome and overall wellness.5

    However, when it comes to disease prevention, more research on prebiotic fibre is still needed, but showing promise with the ability to help manage inflammatory bowel disease6, obesity along with the ability to help regulate blood sugar,7 and improve calcium absorption (and in turn bone health).8 What is certain is that pairing prebiotic foods with a gut nourished by a high-quality probiotic product like Bio-K+ will ensure a thriving, growing and well-nourished microbiome.



    Synbiotics are the combination of probiotics and prebiotics delivered together to the body. Synbiotics are getting increased attention due to the idea that different prebiotic fibres will stimulate the growth of different gut bacteria strains. This seems to be an exciting concept because it means that prebiotics can have a significant potential to alter the microflora. But be careful because these changes may only occur in specific strains or species of probiotic bacteria. 

    What’s important to recognize about synbiotics is that there is no specific health effect of synbiotics as a whole. Rather the benefits of synbiotics are associated with the specific combination of probiotics and prebiotics that you would find in a synbiotic supplement. That means if you eat a diet rich in prebiotic fibre and take a probiotic that is clinically proven to promote an environment for good bacteria to grow, you may be better positioned to increase the diversity of your microbiome (a good thing that supports a wide range of health benefits) versus taking a specific synbiotic.



    Postbiotics are a byproduct of the fermentation process that occurs when prebiotics feed probiotics in your gut. Postbiotics include organic acids, enzymes and carbon substrates which are believed to help regulate the composition of the microbiome.9 The most popular use of postbiotics is found in neonatal infants and those suffering from more serious intestinal and inflammatory disease such as Crohn’s or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), however research is limited.10 The takeaway for postbiotics is that while they are a new (and exciting) consideration for understanding microbiome homeostasis, our knowledge of their mechanism and action is largely unexplored and current utilization remains in a specialized clinical setting.10


    The Takeaway

    Science continues to unveil more about our microbiota and its link to our health. The idea that our gut microbiota can be regulated via the consumption of prebiotics and probiotics to benefit human health is exciting and scientifically supported. While both pre and probiotics can be delivered via the diet, supplementation, specifically of probiotics, is proven to be a more effective means of rebalancing the gut microbiota, especially after a round of antibiotics. The benefit of a probiotic supplement is that you offer your body a specific set of bacteria, in a therapeutic dose, that is known to have a beneficial effect on the microbiome and help prevent gut dysbiosis.


    When it comes to digestive health, there is a lot of information out there and a lot of products to choose from; it can feel overwhelming to navigate what is best for your body and your needs. Selecting a supplement to compliment and support your specific health issues requires research and a little investigating to ensure that the product you choose has the evidence to back up what it is claiming to deliver.


    If you have questions about microbiota and intestinal health, let us know in the comments below. Join our community for more healthy tips. To stock up on Bio-K+, click hereContact us or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.




    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=probiotics

    2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/probiotics/faq-20058065

    3. Recent Development of Prebiotic Research—Statement from an Expert Workshop - PMC (nih.gov)

    4. https://isappscience.org/prebiotics/

    5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748826/

    6. https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/360713

    7. Metabolic diseases and pro- and prebiotics: Mechanistic insights - PMC (nih.gov)

    8. Prebiotic and Probiotic Regulation of Bone Health: Role of the Intestine and its Microbiome - PMC (nih.gov)

    9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23271068

    10. Therapeutic Use of Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics to Prevent Necrotizing Enterocolitis: What is the Current Evidence? - PMC (nih.gov)


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    Jef L’Ecuyer Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    After her nutrition training at McGill University, Jef specialized in gastrointestinal health with a special interest in the microbiota and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. With Bio-K+, she continues on this path by making the world of probiotics more accessible to all.
    View all articles by Jef L’Ecuyer
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