Home » Prebiotics and probiotics & our gut health

Prebiotics and probiotics & our gut health

Prebiotics are made up of special plant fibres that help the healthy bacteria present in our gut to multiply. They can improve the efficiency of our digestive system and immune system if consumed adequately. Probiotics consist of live organisms, mostly specific strains of bacteria that increase the number of healthy microorganisms present in our gut. Read the article to know more about our gut health and its relation to prebiotics and probiotics. 

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates. We must consume food that helps us stay healthy and nourishes our bodies. Eating food beneficial to the micro-organisms present in our gut boosts our immune system and maintains our overall health.  

The lining of our gut is covered with micro-organisms, mostly consisting of various types of bacteria. The organisms build a micro-ecosystem known as the microbiome. We won’t realize but it plays a significant role in maintaining our health.  

The healthier our microbiome is, the healthier we are. To keep our microbiome healthy, we can help the microbes present, to grow by giving them the required food [prebiotics] or rather externally consuming living microbes [probiotics] to add them in our gut.  

What are Prebiotics?  

Prebiotics are made up of special plant fibres that help the healthy bacteria present in our gut to multiply. They can improve the efficiency of our digestive system and immune system if consumed adequately. Furthermore, they can also be called as fertilizers that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria already present in our gut.  

Prebiotics are particularly found in several types of fruits and vegetables. They are mainly found in foods that have complex carbohydrates. Fructo-oligosaccharides and Galacto-oligosaccharides are the two main groups of prebiotics and prove advantageous to our health.  


The concept of prebiotics was introduced in 1955 by Glenn Gibson and Marcel Roberfroid for the first time. Prebiotics was described as “a non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improves host health.”  

As per the above definition, only a few compounds of the carbohydrate group, like short and long chain β-fructans [ fructo-oligosaccharide and inulin], lactulose, and galacto-oligosaccharides, can be categorized as prebiotics. [1].  

The following principles are utilized to identify a compound as a prebiotic:  

  • It should be resistant to the acidic pH of the stomach, cannot be hydrolysed by mammalian enzymes, and also should not be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract.  
  • It can be fermented by intestinal microbiota.  
  • The growth and/or activity of the intestinal bacteria can be selectively stimulated by this compound and this process as a result improves the host’s health.  

Click here to know more about the principles used to indicate a compound as a prebiotic.  

Moreover, prebiotics play the role of a food source for the microorganisms existing in our gut. The microorganisms metabolize and further ferment the prebiotics to survive, and produce several types of other by-products that help the body in numerous ways.   

Image credits –  https://bugspeaks.com/blog-details?id=12&&title=On_Prebiotics  

What are Probiotics?  

Probiotics basically consist of live organisms, mostly specific strains of bacteria that increase the number of healthy microorganisms present in our gut. Probiotics can also be consumed through foods or supplements. The most common foods containing probiotics are:  

  • Yoghurt.  
  • Sauerkraut.  
  • Kombucha.  
  • Kimchi.  

A single dose of the probiotic supplement may contain a particular strain of microbe or blend of microbes. For example, Probiotic supplements for irritable bowel syndrome [IBS].  

The term “probiotic” is derived from the Greek language meaning “for life” but the definition has developed over time. It was introduced in 1953 by the German scientist Werner Kollath.  

For a microbe to be called a probiotic, it must have the following characteristics:  

  • It should be isolated from a human.  
  • It should thrive in our intestine after consumption.  
  • Prove beneficial to us.  
  • It should be eaten safely.  

Click here to know more about the characteristics of prebiotics.   

Also more studies are required to support the health benefits of probiotics.   

Image credits – https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics  


How do prebiotics and probiotics work?  

Generally, the microbes present in our gut metabolize prebiotics [that we consume] and produce short-chain fatty acids {e.g.- butyrate, acetate, and propionate}. Short-chain fatty acids nourish the cells lining the gut. Later, they enter the bloodstream and reach the other organs of our body.  

They communicate with the brain and regulate the immune system which benefits our health.  

  • Click here to know more about how prebiotics and probiotics work.   
  • Click here to know how prebiotics protects our body from disorders.  
  • Click here to know the mechanism of probiotic activity.   

Prebiotics and gut health –  

The following are the benefits of prebiotics for our gut health:  

  • Prebiotic inulin is beneficial for colitis [23], obesity, and diabetes type-2 [4].  
  • Fructo-oligosaccharides help treat constipation and traveller’s diarrhoea [5].  
  • Soluble fibres (guar gum, pectin, etc.) are beneficial for celiac disease [6], arthritis, metabolic syndrome [7], and colon cancer. 

More studies on prebiotics are also being done to discover their uses.  

Probiotics and gut health –  

Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as “live micro-organisms that can provide benefits to human health when administered in adequate amounts, which confer a beneficial health effect to the host”. [WHO/2001].  

Probiotics especially help in the treatment or prevention of acute viral gastroenteritis, post-antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, inflammatory bowel disease [IBD] and other diseases. Probiotics are also beneficial in treating diarrhoea [89] and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea [10] in Newborns and children.  

Although probiotics are beneficial, they can cause some critical health issues if immuno-compromised patients consume probiotics.  



Prebiotics are food for the healthy bacteria present in our gut, while probiotics are present in specific foods or can be taken as supplements. They are therefore consumed to increase the healthy bacteria present in our gut.  It is important to consume them adequately for maintaining the health of our gut. 

Hope you found this blog useful.  

References –  




More Reading

Post navigation

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *