Prebiotics & Probiotics?


With global health issues ranging from malnutrition in poorer countries to ageing multimorbid populations in industrialized countries, the use of prebiotics and probiotics has grown exponentially, especially in the field of functional foods. 

In many countries prebiotics and probiotics are therefore marketed as so-called “functional foods” with a wide array of health promises – and a resulting confusion between pre- and pro-biotics.

It is therefore useful to look at the definitions more closely and to define what is relevant to medical thinking.

A prebiotic is defined as a non-digestible substrate which is fermented selectively by part of the intestinal microflora, so stimulating the growth and activity of bacteria, primarily bifidobacteria – with beneficial consequences to the host. 6-9

A probiotic is defined as a live microorganism which – if taken in adequate amounts – confers a health benefit to the host.

6. Griffin I.J, et al, Methological Considerations in Measuring Human Calcium Absorption: Relevance to Study the Effects of Inulin-type Fructans British Journal of Nutrition (2005), 93 Suppl. 1, 105-110 
7. Scholz-Ahrens et al, Effects of Prebiotics on Mineral Metabolism, Am J Clin Nutr 2001; 73 (suppl) 459S-64 
8. Seki N, et al, Effect of Lactulose on Calcium and Magnesium Absorption: A Study Using Stable Isotopes in Adult Men J. Nutr. Sci Vitaminol, 53, S-12, 2007
9. Singh A, et al, Effects of Prebiotics on Git and Human Health: A Review Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology, April 2007 Vol 1(1), p 69-82