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How Do Probiotics and Prebiotics Work Together?

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jul 05, 2021

How Do Probiotics and Prebiotics Work Together?

How do probiotics and prebiotics work together? Fermented food like yogurt and kimchi are some of the trendiest health foods today. Fortunately, these foods are not just passing fads. What makes them so great? Not only are these foods nutritious as part of a well-balanced diet, but they contain a special health boost— probiotics and prebiotics.

If you are curious about kimchi, learn more about its health benefits here:

how do probiotics and prebiotics work together

About the gut microbiota

To understand the importance of pre- and probiotics, we need to discuss a bit about the digestive system, particularly the gut. In the gut, or intestines, nutrients from food get absorbed and waste is excreted from the body.

In the gut, there are trillions of bacteria, referred to as the microbiota or normal flora. These are the “good” bacteria. While bacteria are usually considered bad, the normal flora live in the gut and help keep the bad bacteria at bay. The normal flora is also important for breaking down food matter and converting it into more nutrients.

What are prebiotics?

Now, prebiotics are food and supplements that can feed the good bacteria of the gut. In order for certain food to make it to the large intestines it should be indigestible. Food like vegetables, fruit, and grains contain a lot of fiber which are not digested by the stomach.

Fiber passes through the digestive tract and acts somewhat like a sponge or pipe cleaner. Along the way it cleans up the gut and pushes digested food matter (bolus) down the tract. While in the lower intestine, the bolus moves very slowly. The fiber in the bolus comes into contact with the gut bacteria and serves as food for them.

Prebiotics help maintain the normal flora, ensuring that their population is maintained to prevent other organisms from invading or taking over.

What are probiotics?

Unlike prebiotics, probiotics are not fuel for the normal flora but live bacteria themselves. Probiotics are also good bacteria and do not cause infections.

Common bacteria found in probiotic food and supplements include Bifidobacterium strains, Lactobacillus strains, and Saccharomyces strains. Each bacteria has their own characteristics and effects, but overall, they can improve your digestion and overall health.

However, just like the bad bacteria, the normal flora can be killed by antibiotics. While antibiotics are necessary to fight off serious infections, the harm to the normal flora is an unwanted side effect.

Usually, the normal flora replenishes quickly, but compromised immunity or the wrong use of antibiotics can affect their growth.

how do probiotics and prebiotics work together

How do probiotics and prebiotics work together?

Probiotics and prebiotics work well separately, but together they can boost your health even more.

Prebiotics from high-fiber food not only helps the gut microbiota but can fight off diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, and even certain cancers.

Because prebiotics serve as fuel for the bacteria in the gut, taking probiotic supplements or probiotic-containing food enhances the benefits.

With all the health benefits mentioned throughout this article, there has to be a downside somewhere?

Of course, probiotics and prebiotics are not perfect. Firstly, neither are considered drugs for the most part. They are not prescribed to treat a specific infection or condition alone, but are often recommended as a supplemental treatment.

Another thing to note when using probiotics and prebiotics is that it can cause some intestinal distress.

Bloating and gassiness are normal but undesirable side effects. Gas production is a byproduct of the bacteria in the gut breaking down fiber and sugars, as well as swallowed air. This gas is not harmful, but too much of it can be uncomfortable and occasionally awkward.

Food with prebiotics and probiotics


  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Whole grains (e.g. brown rice, oatmeal)
  • Legumes (e.g. peanuts, beans)
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Probiotics

    • Yogurt
    • Atchara
    • Kimchi
    • Cheese (note: fresh cheese has more live bacteria than aged-cheese)

    Key Takeaways

    Good health starts from within. With the help of good bacteria from probiotics and prebiotics, your gut will be a well-oiled machine. Including more food that contains fiber also has added health benefits to prevent other diseases. In conclusion, probiotics and prebiotics work together to improve your natural defenses and overall health.

    Learn more about Healthy Eating Tips, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Written by

    Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


    Updated Jul 05, 2021

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