Probiotics and Prebiotics

What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?

Probiotics and Prebiotics. They sound the same, but they’re quite different, and have different implications for the gut.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are living micro-organisms, often bacterial, that are similar to the bacteria that naturally occur in the human body – particularly the intestine, and even more particularly the intestine of a healthy, breastfed baby.

These micro-organisms have been shown to provide health benefits when ingested, and are reported to be especially helpful for those with intestinal and inflammatory disorders, specifically ulcerative colitis.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are “food” for certain groups of bacteria. They themselves are not living bacteria, but are carbohydrates that are not normally digested (such as fibre), that are contained in many natural food items like fruits and legumes and whole grains.

When you ingest prebiotics, you selectively increase certain population of bacteria that consume that prebiotic. In this way, you increase your own probiotic bacteria. 

Do probiotics help those living with Cohn's or colitis?

Caution should be used with dramatic claims that specific products containing probiotics can reduce active intestinal inflammation, and not all probiotic bacteria strains are the same. But study results from animal models on prevention of disease are encouraging. 

Clinical studies in mouse models sugggest that probiotics may help reduce flares and prevent complications of Crohn's or colitis such as pouchitis. Probiotics are typically considered safe to use as very few adverse effects have been reported, with increased gas being the main complaint. 

However, variability across clinical studies, such as doses and types of probiotics used, make it difficult for experts to draw conclusions about the efficacy of probiotic use in the management of inflammtory bowel diseases. Further studies are needed to determine how effective probiotics may be in bringing about remission or maintaining remission in Crohn's and colitis.  

People with Crohn's or colitis should be aware of what probiotics supplements they’re taking. Make sure the product you choose has a drug information number (DIN), natural product number (NPN) or homeopathic number (DIN-HM) and talk to your doctor before starting the product. Decicions about the use probiotics in your disease management should be communicated with your health care providers.  

What natural sources contain probiotics and prebiotics?

Probiotics are typically delivered through yogurt and supplements, but there are a number of other natural food sources:

  • Buttermilk is similar to yogurt and can be the basis of a great smoothie. It’s available in the dairy aisle of most grocery stores;
  • Kefir is a drink made of cow, goat or sheep milk fermented with kefir grains. Available in natural food stores, it is bitter on its own but can be mixed with fruit or other sweeteners.
  • Tempeh is a fermented soy product similar to tofu, except that it is chewier. It’s also a high-quality protein and one of the few vegetarian sources of vitamin B12.
  • Miso is a Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting various beans or grains. It is used in soups, sauces, and spreads.
  • Sauerkraut is fermented or pickled cabbage. Probiotic bacteria is formed when fresh cabbage ferments in brine.
  • Kim Chi is somewhat like sauerkraut, but much more pungent and spicy. In Korea, kim chi is served as a side dish or a relish.
  • Brewer’s yeast, a by-product of beer-making, is thought to contain probiotic bacteria.


Prebiotic sources include:

  • Raw chicory root
  • Raw jerusalem artichoke
  • Raw dandelion greens
  • Raw garlic
  • Raw leek
  • Raw and cooked onion
  • Raw asparagus
  • Raw wheat bran
  • Cooked whole wheat flour
  • Raw banana

want to learn more about probiotics and prebiotics?

Click the video below to learn from experts in the field about the use of probiotics and nutritional supplements for Crohn's and colitis. 

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 150 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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