Prebiotics, probiotics: What’s the difference?

Get your digestion back on track!

Probiotics are thought to be growth promoters that improve the gut’s microbial balance.

The intestinal tract is thought to be the most densely populated ecosystem in the human body, containing 100 trillion microorganisms (Backhed, 2005). The bacteria or microflora that line our gut have many health benefits. Some of those benefits include providing resistance to pathogens (aka bad bacteria), regulating the flow of digestion, providing nutritional support, and boosting the immune system.

What can disrupt the good bacteria?

When our normal flora is disrupted, we often feel a change in digestion and may be more susceptible to getting sick. Bacteria in our gut can be negatively affected by antibiotics, stress, diet, overgrowth of normal bacteria, and impaired microflora acquired during infancy.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of digestion‐resistant carbohydrate (aka fiber) that serves as food for the microflora. Think of it as not food for us, since it is digestion‐resistant, but food for our good bacteria. Some examples of prebiotics are cellulose, pectin, and lactulose (Warrand, 2006). These fibers may be found naturally in certain foods, cow’s milk, and alternative milks. Inulin‐type fibers provide energy for the Bifidobacterium species. Lactulose, taken daily, is thought to increase Bifodibacterium and Lactobacillus while reducing potentially harmful Clostridium and Streptococcus bacteria (Tuohy, 2005). Prebiotics do more than just supply food to the good bacteria; they also promote digestion by alleviating constipation, enhancing mineral absorption, and modulating lipid levels (Busserolles, 2003).

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are thought to be growth promoters that improve the gut’s microbial balance. Common probiotics are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces species. Lactobacillus resides mostly in the small intestine while Bifidobacterium lives in the large intestine, and Saccharomyces may reside along the entire GI tract. Most Lactobacillus probiotics do not normally reside in the gut but colonize there from consumption of products that contain them, such as foods in a plant‐based diet. Of the probiotics, studies show that Bifidobacterium has many health benefits, including the ability to metabolize and break down lactose, synthesize certain vitamins, and provide benefit from diarrhea (Leahy, 2005). Saccharomyces has been shown to be highly effective at treating antibiotic‐induced diarrhea and traveler’s diarrhea, and it has helped to prevent relapses in Crohn’s disease.

Probiotics can be effective in treating a wide range of digestive health issues from constipation to diarrhea. They also help to protect against “bad” bacteria, boost the immune system, alleviate IBS, and aid in optimal nutrient and vitamin absorption.

What probiotics should you take?

Before starting a probiotic regimen, it is best to consult with a naturopathic doctor who is trained in the use of probiotics and who can guide you to reputable brands that are known to provide active forms of the bacteria.


If you have questions about your health, please give Dr. Heintze a call today (425) 686-4498 for a health evaluation and consultation.

Dr. Heintze at Starting Point Acupuncture and Wellness, specializes in digestive health and has helped many people with “unexplained” digestive health issues find the root cause of what is going on. She has had advanced training in celiac disease and food allergy diagnosis. As a naturopathic doctor, Dr. Heintze is able to do a full health intake and exam as well as order any blood tests, celiac testing, or food allergy testing, if indicated. To schedule a consultation please call (425) 686-4498.


Backhed, F. L. (2005). Host-bacterial mutualism in the human intestine. Science , 1915-1920.

Busserolles, J. e. (2003). Oligofructose protects against the hypertriglyceridemic and pro-oxidative effects of a high fructose diet in rats. J Nutr , 133, 1903-1908.

Leahy, S. e. (2005). Getting better with bifidobacteria. J Appl Microbiol (98), 1303-1315.

Tuohy, E. e. (2005). Modulation of the human gut microflora towards improved health using prebiotics-assessment of efficacy. Curr Pharm Des (11), 75-90.

Warrand, J. (2006). Healthy polysaccharides. Food Technol Biotechnol (44), 355-370.

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Call or Schedule Now!

(425) 686-4498

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc

  • Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
    Bastyr University
  • Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
    Bastyr University
  • Master’s Degree in Chemistry
    Northern Arizona University
Dr. Heintze Acupuncturist and Naturopathic Doctor

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