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13.4: Probiotics and Prebiotics

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    Probiotics are products that contain microbes (usually bacteria) that have been shown (or are thought) to provide health benefits.  There are commercially available products which contain specific strains of microbes, but many fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha contain beneficial microbes.  In addition to the microbes themselves, fermented foods also contain products of microbial metabolism, some of which have their own health benefits.

    Because the very young and very old have less robust gut flora, probiotics could be particularly beneficial in these populations to enhance the flora present in the gut.  It has not been established, however, whether probiotics can permanently alter a person’s normal microbiota.

    Probiotics can have a range of health benefits.  For instance, taking probiotics while on antibiotics can help prevent diarrhea from the altered intestinal bacteria population.  Because the gut bacteria interact with the immune system, there is some evidence that immune system-related conditions, such as eczema, can be improved with the use of probiotics.  Considering the role of the gut microbiota in metabolic regulation and behavior, these can also be affected by the use of probiotics.  The appropriate probiotic to use can depend on the health benefits desired.


    The composition of a person’s gut microbiota is closely linked to their diet.  For instance, vegetarians and meat-eaters have significantly different populations of bacteria in their intestinal tract.  Some of the bacteria found in the flora of meat-eaters can convert compounds found in meat into a compound closely linked to cardiovascular disease.

    Prebiotics are substances which are ingested that support the growth of beneficial populations of microbes in the gut.  For instance, food which contain non-digestible carbohydrates (such as vegetables and whole grain breads) increase the proportion of beneficial microbes in the gut and also increase SCFA production.

    For more extensive information on probiotics and prebiotics, visit

    13.4: Probiotics and Prebiotics is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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