more than just a probiotic-prebiotic combination

The history of the synbiotic concept

Scientists Gibson and Roberfroid coined the term “synbiotic” in 1995 to refer to a combination of a probiotic and a prebiotic.

In 2019, a group of scientists met under the auspices of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) to update the definition and use of synbiotics. This new definition of synbiotics follows the previous revisions to the definitions for probiotics (2014) and prebiotics (2017).

The result is a new definition of synbiotics, described as “A mixture of living microorganisms and substrate (s) which are selectively used by host microorganisms * and which bring a health benefit to the host”.

Because scientists have come to the conclusion that a synbiotic is not simply a combination of a probiotic and a prebiotic, two types of synbiotics have emerged:

  • Complementary Synbiotics: Both the probiotic and prebiotic components of the synbiotic act independently to produce health benefits. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when consumed in sufficient quantities, have health benefits. Prebiotics are food for your gut microbiota. For example, almost all commercially available synbiotics are in complementary form.
  • Synergistic synbiotics: both the probiotic and the prebiotic work as a team to achieve a health benefit. An example of a synergistic synbiotic could be a combination of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus species and their favorite food like lactose (the most abundant sugar in milk) that selectively supports their growth rather than promoting all of the beneficial members of the gut microbiota. Both the probiotic bacteria and the prebiotic work together (not independently) to produce a health benefit.

What Can Synbiotics Do For You?

The health benefits of synbiotics aren’t limited to your gut health as they can target areas of your body outside of the gut, like the skin.

The panel of experts that set the new definition of synbiotics says that orally administered complementary synbiotics have been shown in human studies to help with metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea and atopic dermatitis, among others.

Synbiotics in Practice

Synbiotics are more present in your everyday life than you probably imagine. They are a delicious and smart recipe that allows you to benefit from probiotics and prebiotics all rolled into one. A snack with yogurt and whole grain cereals or a piece of yogurt, for example, is good for your health and you are also consuming a synbiotic!

Learn more about the new definition of synbiotics and how they are formulated in this new ISAPP infographic.

ISAPP – Synbiotics Infographic

* Host microorganisms refer to both the intestinal microbiota and externally applied microorganisms in the form of probiotics.


Gibson GR, Roberfroid MB. Dietary Modulation of the Human Colon Microbiota: Introduction to the Concept of Prebiotics. J Nutr. 1995; 125 (6): 1401-12. doi: 10.1093 / jn / 125.6.1401.

Swanson KS, Gibson GR, Hutkins R, et al. Consensus statement of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) on the definition and scope of synbiotics. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020. doi: 10.1038 / s41575-020-0344-2.

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