What is the difference between a probiotic, prebiotic and polybiotic?

Probiotics, prebiotics and polybiotics are all beneficial bacteria that play an important role in your digestive health. But what exactly is the difference between probiotics, prebiotics and polybiotics?


What is a probiotic?

Probiotics are live bacteria that live in your body, typically found in the gut. They help to protect against bad bacteria, support digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as helping to maintain a healthy immune system.1 Probiotics can be found in foods such as kefir and kombucha.2 There are also probiotic supplements available in formats such as powder sachets, capsules and liquid.3  


What is a prebiotic?

Prebiotics are indigestible fibres that act as food for probiotics. They’re found naturally in foods like onions, garlic, asparagus and artichoke.2 When added to probiotic supplements, prebiotics help increase probiotic numbers so they can do their job more effectively in the gut. This is called a symbiotic.1 Prebiotic supplements are also available for those who don’t get enough from their diet alone.


What is a polybiotic?

Polybiotics refer to probiotic supplements that contain multiple probiotic strains with different functions within the body. By taking a multi-strain probiotic supplement you can ensure you’re receiving more variety of strains which will help increase the diversity of the gut microbiome and is therefore more favourable for gut health, as evidenced demonstrated by the latest research.4


How do probiotics help with gut health?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are used to help restore the natural balance of healthy microbes in your digestive tract.5


Probiotics improve gut health by strengthening the mucosal barrier of the intestine, which in turn helps reduce inflammation and improve digestion. Probiotics also help create a healthy balance of good bacteria in your digestive tract, making it easier for your body to break down and absorb nutrients from food.6

Probiotics can also increase the production of short chain fatty acids which act as energy sources for cells lining the colon making them healthier and better able to fight off bad bacteria or infections caused by viruses or fungi.3


Finally, probiotics have been found to reduce inflammation and reduce gastrointestinal symptoms by re-balancing gut bacteria which is of particular value if you suffer from digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease (IBS).1


How do I know which probiotic is suited to me?

Now that you know the difference between probiotics, prebiotics and polybiotics it’s time to decide what type of supplementation is right for you depending on your health goals or needs.


If you want targeted benefits, it may be worth investing in a multi-strain polybiotic supplement to maximise diversity and effectiveness. Check out our article to help guide you on which probiotic to choose (insert link).


Finally, remember that eating a balanced, varied diet rich in fibre and gut-loving prebiotics and probiotics an essential part of improving your overall gut health. Don’t forget to read our tips on the top dietary sources of prebiotics and probiotics here (insert link).



  1. National Institutes of Health. Probiotics. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals Probiotics - Health Professional Fact Sheet (nih.gov)
  2. BDA 2022. Probiotics Food Fact Sheet. Available online: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/probiotics.html
  3. ValdesA M, Walter J, Segal E, SpectorT D. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health  BMJ  2018;  361 :k2179 doi:10.1136/bmj.k2179
  4. Vijay A. and Valdes A. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2022) 76, p489–501 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41430-021-00991-6
  5. NHS 2022. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/probiotics/#:~:text=Probiotics%20are%20thought%20to%20help,irritable%20bowel%20syndrome%20(IBS).
  6. Kocot AM et al. Int J Mol Sci 2022 Mar 7;23(5):2896. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35270039/




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