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Prebiotic vs. Probiotic – What’s the Difference?

Written by: Adrienn Myers-Woods

I will never forget the look of terror on my toddler’s face as I begged her to please just eat her yogurt because it has “lots of good bacteria.” Up until this point, she knew that bacteria and germs were bad news, and that you could wash your hands to get rid of the bad guys. It took a few different conversations, some pinky promises, and a few samples of different yogurt varieties, but she was finally convinced that the “good bacteria” were good guys, and they were there to help her tummy and overall health. Now you are not a toddler, obviously. But the world of good and bad bacteria, prebiotic vs. probiotic, can still be pretty confusing.

So let’s break down what these good guys are, and how they’re different. Prebiotic foods are typically fiber rich like whole grains, leafy greens, garlic, bananas, and onions. These complex carbohydrates “feed” the beneficial bacteria in your body, especially in your gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics are live microorganisms found in supplements or food that add to the already important population of healthy gut bacteria and the rest of your body. The most common strains for probiotic supplements are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You can find them in fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut.

Prebiotics don’t actually contain live bacteria, but instead stimulate the growth of important microorganisms to promote digestive health. The role of probiotics include helping with gut health and function, supporting your immune system, and keeping your vagina happy and healthy. Both of these big helpers can promote regular bowel movements, just in time for the holidays. To break it down even further, probiotics add to the good stuff, prebiotics feed the good stuff that’s already there.

Now we know what pre and probiotics are, but when should you use them, and how? Prebiotics have been shown to improve satiety (aka feeling full), and weight loss. While probiotics are often recommended after use of antibiotics, or other conditions like food poisoning or a stomach bug which could throw off your GI digestive tract and gut microbiome. A probiotic is also found helpful by many people who have recurrent vaginal or bladder infections. The role of probiotics for vaginal health is complicated, but beneficial. After rounds of antibiotic treatment, your body may need help repopulating all the “good guys.” And both pre and probiotics can help with some common digestive system issues like bloating and constipation.

Now you’re armed with all this great information. . . but which prebiotic and probiotic do you choose? It seems like there’s hundreds, they’re all packaged differently, the names are confusing, what’s a girl to do?! You can always start by reaching out to your healthcare provider for their recommendation for women’s health probiotics, and they can make sure you’re choosing a product that is safe for you. And of course, do your own research, don’t break the bank, and consider purchasing a reputable brand like pH-D® Feminine Health.

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